History

Discover the fascinating history and growth of manufactured homes, from the trailers of the 30s to the mobile homes of the 70s to today's exceptional factory-built models which rival the best site-built homes in quality and style.

Today’s manufactured homes are far more sophisticated than their mobile home predecessors — and they aren’t really mobile anymore! Here’s a fun peek at the fascinating history of an ever-popular form of housing that today attracts everyone from millenials seeking housing alternatives to people who are thinking of downsizing or retiring.

1920s The beginnings of manufactured homes can be traced back to the early 20th century when car culture began and travel trailers were invented for camping or long road trips.

1930s When the Depression came and jobs were scarce, many people and their families had little choice but to make their travel trailers home, even though these travel trailers were  not intended as full-time dwellings. Manufacturers soon identified this as a new trend.

When the war years arrived, these trailer homes were deemed ideal for housing on military bases and employee lodging near factories engaged in war production. The trailers could be quickly wheeled to new locations as needed. Over time, manufacturers saw an opportunity and began increasing square footage and adding features to make the trailers more comfortable.

Tin Lizzie

A Tin Lizzie and trailer head down a California highway in February 1936. Photo from Library of Congress / Dorothea Lange

When World War II ended, veterans returned home to find a lack of affordable housing so the manufactured housing industry began constructing homes with enough space for families but offered the mobility for the families to relocate their homes to go where the jobs were.

1950s By 1950s, trailer homes began to be marketed as an inexpensive form of housing designed to be set up and left in a location for long periods of time, or even permanently installed with a foundation. Whereas early units had previously been eight feet or less in width, by 1956, 10-foot-wide home came on the market — and the term “mobile home” was born. The manufactured home movement in Canada began when the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute was incorporated in 1953.

A cut-away view shows the orientation of a mid-1950s house trailer. Drawing from the Milwaukee Sentinel http://portablelevittown.blogspot.com/

A cut-away view shows the orientation of a mid-1950s house trailer. Drawing from the Milwaukee Sentinel http://portablelevittown.blogspot.com/

Briny Breezes Trailer Park, in Delray Beach, Florida in the 1950s. SOURCE: http://www.vintagetrailercamp.com

Briny Breezes Trailer Park, in Delray Beach, Florida in the 1950s. SOURCE: http://www.vintagetrailercamp.com

1960s Once the 60s arrived, people began to demand larger homes that included more conveniences. including the state-of-the-art appliances that were arriving on the market. “Double-wide” homes consisting of two 10’ or x 12’ sections entered the market and mobile home communities began springing up in towns across North America, reflecting the growing desire for attainable housing, particularly for people just starting out and young families.

Mobile home interior design was making great strides in the mid-to-late 1950s. While the rear bedroom/front living room layout was used for most rigs, in 1956 model year. One of the first a "front kitchen" trailer similar to the unit here, was introduced. Photo from Mobile Home Manufacturers Association http://portablelevittown.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html

Mobile home interior design was making great strides in the mid-to-late 1950s. While the rear bedroom/front living room layout was used for most rigs, in 1956 model year. One of the first a “front kitchen” trailer similar to the unit here, was introduced. Photo from Mobile Home Manufacturers Association, Portable Levittown 

Typical 12’ x 60’ mobile home from the late 1960s and early 1970s. SOURCE: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:67elcona.JPG

Typical 12’ x 60’ mobile home from the late 1960s and early 1970s. SOURCE: Wikimedia 

1970s Governments in Canada and the U.S. began introducing stricter building standards. These homes were now referred to as manufactured homes, not mobile homes or trailers

The Fleetwood Festival model popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. SOURCE: http://restorekaena.org/simple-mobile-home-models-placement/

The Fleetwood Festival model popular in the 1970s and early 1980s.
SOURCE: Restore Kaena 

1980s New strengthened building codes resulted in higher quality homes and more innovation, resulting in cathedral ceilings, open floor plans and more sophisticated finishes and fixtures.

1990s One of every three single-family homes sold is a manufactured home, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) in Washington. Sales jumped from 171,000 in 1991 to 363,000 last year. Standards continue to improve as technology advances, and designs more and more reflect the aesthetics of site-built homes.

2000s In the U.S., manufactured-home sales suffered during the housing bubble due to loans for traditional, site-built homes becoming so readily available — even for those with poor credit. According to a 2006 report by Clayton Research, consumer acceptance is rising and quality increases and deeper attention to aesthetics is helping to shift attitudes away from the “house in a box” stereotype.

As this 2004 Northlander manufactured home shows, these homes were becoming more “home” than mobile.

2018 Today, manufactured homes offer energy-efficiency, improved functionality, superior design and weather-resistance. Compared to the mobile homes of the 1970s, today’s mobile home is often difficult to distinguish from the site built home. Interiors are sophisticated, featuring quality finishings comparable to site-built homes to attract a generation raised on home and reno TV programming.

This manufactured home from Lake Country Modular in Kelowna reflects the rise of modular living.

 Today’s manufactured homes showcase sophisticated designs and many features such as pitched roofs and decks that are common in site-built homes. http://www.halstonhomes.com/

Today’s manufactured homes showcase sophisticated designs and many features such as pitched roofs and decks that are common in site-built homes. SOURCE: Halson Homes

Contemporary park model design by Modulux Design in the Okanagan. https://www.parkmodelsandcabins.com/

Contemporary park model design by Modulux Design in the Okanagan. 

As this interior from British Columbia’s Halston Homes shows, ontemporary manufactured home interiors easily rival the design sophistication of site-built homes. http://www.halstonhomes.com/

As this interior from British Columbia’s Halston Homes shows, contemporary manufactured home interiors easily rival the design sophistication of site-built homes. 

The Future Expect to see greener, more design savvy and increasingly smart manufactured homes that will continue to move away from the “trailer” or “mobile home” look of the 20th century. Many of these design improvements will be driven by the social media generation, influenced highly by design celebrities on platforms like Instagram (or whatever comes next). Style will drive functionality, which will surge in ways we can only begin to imagine, with foldable prefab homes, pod homes and more.

Ten Fold Engineering’s prefabricated home that can be folded in under 10 minutes.

Ten Fold Engineering’s prefabricated home that can be folded in under 10 minutes.

This concept of the manufactured home of the future, called the “The Alpod” features a flexible open-plan living space, and the lightweight aluminum shell makes it easy for transport. SOURCE: http://www.beautifullife.info/urban-design/the-alpod-a-mobile-home-from-aluminium-for-the-future/

This concept of the manufactured home of the future, called the “The Alpod” features a flexible open-plan living space, and the lightweight aluminum shell makes it easy for transport. SOURCE: Beautiful Life 

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