by Valerie Law
February 29, 2016
Filed under Feature Story
America boomed in the 1950s, and so did Trailer Life
For the first eight of its 75 years, this magazine went by the name Western Trailer Life. During that period of wartime austerity and postwar boom, the publication extended its reach from a small regional monthly covering the Southern California trailer scene to become “the nation’s leading consumer magazine in the trailer coach field,” according to the March 1949 issue when “Western” was dropped from the masthead.
Then came the 1950s, a time of soaring birth rates, automobile ownership and leisure travel. By the end of the decade, Americans owned more cars than the rest of the world combined, including a stylish few with the era’s signature tail fins. Paving the way for a more mobile culture, the Eisenhower administration launched a national network of interstate highways in 1956, and Trailer Life came along for the ride. For many readers, keeping up with the Joneses meant buying not only a house in the suburbs and a shiny new car or two, but also a travel trailer — some sporting aerodynamic fins of their own.
Trailer Life thrived in the age of Ike and interstates, with pages more than doubling and the dime newsstand price inflating to a quarter. Like Popular Science, a leading magazine in the ’50s that reported on the latest inventions — transistor radios! — and told readers how to build them, Trailer Life covered forward-looking technology — solar-energy converters! — and provided do-it-yourself projects.
For every advance in RV technology, Trailer Life was there to cover it, from the new weight-distributing hitches built by Reese and Eaz-Lift to roof-mounted Duo-Therm air conditioners and two-way Dometic refrigerators, cooled by electricity or butane and available in aqua, pink or gold. Destination features took readers to the decade’s trendiest camping spots, from the Alaska Highway, opened to the public in 1948, to Los Alamos, New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic bomb.
Taking the publication from the era of poodle skirts to miniskirts, advertising executive and RV enthusiast Arthur J. “Art” Rouse bought Trailer Life at the end of the ’50s and introduced the objective vehicle tests and nuts-and-bolts editorial that became staples of the magazine in the decades to come.