The History of Mobile Homes

Everything has to start from something and the mobile home evolved from a very rich history. The original mobile home dates as far back as the early 1500’s.

Horse-drawn carriages carried the people selling their wares from town to town. From that lifestyle came beautiful hand carved and very elaborate designs like this wagon I found on Wikipedia:

Fast forward to a brand new country and new people coming to that country finding a better way of life, some succeeded, some didn’t. The first “movable” home in the US was on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When the tide went up a team of horses would move the home to a safer location on the beach.

Add the invention of the automobile in the early 1900’s and you have what, we today, consider a true mobile home. People found that in order to support their family they had to be able to move wherever the work was. The hybrid home and auto was probably some guys way of solving his biggest problem: how to move his wife and kids comfortably and without them fussing the whole drive and still be able to make a living selling his trades. It was a genius’s way of solving the problem. I found this and all the rest of the pictures to follow on Dornob.

I’ve researched to find more information on this hybrid but couldn’t. I’m only guessing that this was not mass produced by a company. I could be wrong.

The next wave of mobile home inventions and designs came from pull-trailers used for camping. A man that didn’t want to camp in a tent came up with a way to pull a cart with his car. The cart’s roof was raised up once it was at the camp and they would sleep in it. Of course, progress happens and better designs follow. By the mid 1940’s the trailer that the cars could pull averaged 8 ft. wide and 20 ft. long. It could sleep several but had no bathroom. Later that decade the length went to over 30 ft. long and bathrooms were installed. By this time the men who had fought in WWII were coming home in masses and cheap housing was a necessity. Mobile homes were a great fit for many and the industry continued to evolve and flourish.

This is a fine example of the era. The designs were ever changing and improving year after year. Some mobile homes even had 2 stories. I personally would love to have one of these. They are awesome!

These pictures are just 2 of the many, many different designs you could choose. They were made with every attention to detail, from a lazy susan to an apartment sized gas range. You could choose your color schemes, layout and appliances. From the single wide evolved the double wide and now today there’s even triple wide homes.

In 1976 the US Congress passed the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Act (42 U.S.C.). This was necessary to hold the industry to a high standard and to insure that everything they put in the mobile home was safe. In 1980 Congress, due to pressure from the industry itself, changed the name mobile home to manufactured housing on the bill. I guess they wanted to update the image of the industry, and “manufactured home” evokes a higher class of product. There is very little difference in the two though. One is made without regard to the site the home will eventually sit on and is completly built in a factory and the other takes the site into consideration, waiting till it gets there to put the home together.

To know the history of something is to understand it better. Now that we have glimpsed thru mobile homes history I hope you can be proud of it. Mobile Homes evolved from necessity. Man has always adapted his surroundings to him and the mobile home is a prime example.

Thank you for reading Mobile and Manufactured Home Living.

  1. Dan Douglas says

    I’m trying to find information on Elcar Trailerized Homes. Do you have any suggestions on where I might start?

    1. Crystal Adkins says

      Hi Dan,

      If you go to Facebook and search for vintage mobile home groups and/or elcar you’ll find several groups that are very active. Join the group and make a post asking about information.

      You may want to order the digital reproductions of the mobile home magazines for the era you are interested in and hope there is an article or press release or ad about them. You can find them for around $10 for several on a CD.

      If you are close to Elkhart IN there is a mobile home hall of fame that has an extensive library too. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of resources on vintage mobile homes so we have to turn to people that are just passionate about them and hope they can help.

      Best of luck!

  2. Pam Rabideaux says

    Hello I am looking for information about a trailer I purchased on property in Northern Wisconsin. We can’t seem to find the registration tag to gain a title. It’s quite remarkable for it’s age, which we approximate to be late 50’s early 60’s and I think someone may be interested. It has built-in dressers and closets in the 2 end bedrooms. Louver windows throughout. an angled kitchen, leaving room for the bathroom behind it. There is a large stretched “S” on the back and there is a silver plaque with the letters : MHMA TCA with the number 0045227 engraved into it. I would appreciate any information as to what company or what year this might be or if you know of any reference sites available those would help in my search as well. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Pam

    1. Crystal Adkins says

      Hi Pam,

      There really isn’t any particular database available for all the mobile homes built in the last century. There were hundreds of builders that manufactured thousands of different models so it’s near impossible to keep track of them all.

      With that said, the MHMA is Mobile Home Manufacturers Association and TCA is Trailer Coach Association (if I recall correctly). They began using mobile home in lieu of trailer in 1954.

      There were a few different builders that used the slant kitchen design; Greer and American Coach are probably the two best known. The slant kitchens came out in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s.

      Here’s an article I wrote about mobile home kitchens from 1955 to 1960:

      The article has a few images that may help you narrow down which home you have. Best of luck – let me know if you figure it out!

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