Innovative Spirit

Ten Inventive Attempts to Make Camping More Comfortable

Making a stay in the great outdoors more luxe isn’t new—even if glamping and #vanlife are

Monon and Ottily Bayer, the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bayer of Costamesa, California, pose in a small, "bunk bed" trailer at their campground in the Shasta National Forest. California, August 1953. (Corbis via Getty Images)

“Home is where you park it,” one now-famous Instagram influencer Foster Huntington—a former New York designer at Ralph Lauren—titled his Kickstarter campaign when he traded his fast-paced, high-pressure life behind for days on the road in a suped-up Volkswagon camper in 2013. Now, #vanlife on Instagram has racked up nearly 6 million posts of folks chronicling their adventures in conversion vans, retrofitted school buses and other motorhomes.

Part of glamping—or glamorous camping—is staying in decked out airstreams and trailers in gorgeous places without sacrficing amenities. As advertised on, some of these vehicles can run for more than $300 per night depending on the location. These amped up recreational vehicles have perks like TVs, air conditioning, multiple queen-sized beds, luxurious slide-out additions for more space, mini-kitchens, electricity and so much more.

But downsizing and escaping to the great outdoors is certainly not a new phenomenon—even if trending topics on Instagram make it seem that way. A browse through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives shows that inventors have been trying to figure out ways to take beds and kitchens on the road with them for a long time. In honor of this human pursuit, we’ve pulled a few of the more quirky patents from the last century that have paved the way for today’s car campers.

Motor Vehicle Body, 1925

In 1925, Charles Turner of East St. Louis, Illinois, proposed something that, to the modern eye, looks like a cross between a Ford Model-T and an Airstream travel trailer, which would enter the scene in the 1930s. Technically speaking, his invention isn’t the vehicle, it’s the object mounted on it. He writes in the patent: “[The] body is given stream-line as much as possible and in cross-section is generally cylindrical or tubular.” The whole bit is made of sheet metal, with a door on one side that’s curved with the shape of the chambered cab. Inside, there’s a cot or bed frame with a mattress. His targeted consumers were tourists, campers and sportsmen needing shelter on the move. “The necessity of stopping before dark and to locate a suitable camp site and then the work of making camp for the night as well as the work of breaking up the camp in the morning [...] are avoided by my invention.”

About Rachael Lallensack

Rachael Lallensack is the assistant web editor for science and innovation at Smithsonian.

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