House Trailers Have Come a Long Way, Baby | People & Places | Smithsonian
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House Trailers Have Come a Long Way, Baby

The earliest models looked like horse trailers but today's mobile home is basically a house and the typical "trailer park" resembles a subdivision

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The modern mobile home's antecedents were trailers designed for recreational jaunts. Seasonal and itinerant workers adopted them as temporary homes in the 1930s; during World War II, travel trailers provided housing for defense workers all over the country. In the 1960s, a split occurred in the mobile home's family tree. One branch stayed nomadic and evolved into the familiar RV; the other put on weight, got bigger and fancier, settled down and became respectable. Many of today's mobile homes are practically indistinguishable from "site-built" homes, and the only time they're mobile is when a truck hauls them from the factory or sales lot to a park.

Trailer parks have long had an image problem, but in recent years they've done much to overcome it. As writer Chiori Santiago discovered on a recent cross-country tour, trailer-park residents are lively, interesting and admirable. They range from campesinos who own and operate their own park in Soledad, California, to screenwriters and artists who live in a luxurious mobile-home community near Hollywood, to retired folks who are constantly on the go in their mobile-home subdivision in Bradenton, Florida.

"Trailer parks offer the promise of suburbia for those who can't afford to move from the city," Santiago reports, "and the luxury of a resort for folks on a Levittown budget. Ordered in neighborly units, they are pioneer wagons circled against danger, and yet they encourage our desire to thrust forward into the unknown."

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