This month, Winnebago celebrates its 60th anniversary! In six decades, the RV icon has helped to shape a national pastime. And along the way, there were defining moments that inspired America’s most iconic motorhomes and towables. Here’s a quick time-travel:
The beginning: 1958 through the ‘60s
In 1958, Congress created NASA and approved Alaska as the 49th state. The first plastic hula hoop hit the market and Bridge Over the River Kwai won the Oscar for Best Picture. But a recession was on, and Forest City, Iowa needed jobs. Local businessman John K. Hanson wooed the Aljo travel trailer company to open a manufacturing facility in his hometown; and on March 19, 1958, Modernistic Industries of Iowa rolled the first Aljo off its assembly line. Its sticker price: $895.
Hanson soon bought out the other owners, and, with wife Luise, pioneered dozens of improvements in quality and design. In 1960, they renamed the company Winnebago, after the Iowa county where the company was born and the name of the river flowing through the community.In 1966, Winnebago expanded into motorhomes. The famous F-19 and D-22 followed, and the world’s leading RV manufacturer was off to the races.
Smaller footprints: 1970s and ‘80s
By the 1970s, Americans were in love with RVs. Just one year after Winnebago went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1970, its stock price multiplied by 462%. But an oil embargo hit and gas prices soared. “You can’t take weekends from the American public,” said Winnebago’s optimistic president, who led the rollout of more fuel-efficient models like the garage-sized Winnie Wagon and the small Class C gas Minnie Winnie.
In 1980s, the personal computer was born—and so was Winnebago’s next round of technology: The company perfected its SuperStructure® manufacturing method, now legendary for building high-quality, fuel-efficient RVs at an affordable price. The Winnebago Warrior and Itasca Spectrum doubled the fuel economy of conventional RVs. And the LeSharo and Phasar motorhomes and Centaur vans were ahead of their time in compact maneuverability.
‘90s and Turn of the Century
In the 1990s, the economy was humming again and larger Class C motorhomes were popular and getting more luxurious. Winnebago opened a Class C manufacturing plant in Charles City, Iowa, to keep up with demand.
The company also introduced the Rialta, a future cult classic that delivered big-motorhome features on a smaller Volkswagen chassis. At the other end of the spectrum was the luxurious Class A Vectra, with massive, accessible basement storage that made it ideal for extended trips.
In the first decade of the new century, Winnebago recaptured the top spot in both Class A and Class C sales, and was voted “most-admired RV manufacturer by RVBusiness magazine. It introduced the Class A Vista, which remains popular today, and created a whole new category of Class C motorhomes with two stunning models built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis: the Winnebago View and the Itasca Navion.
From 2010 to Now
In 2010, Winnebago re-entered the towables category, purchasing Sunnybrook RV in Middlebury, Indiana. Sunnybrook evolved into Winnebago Towables, marking a return to the company’s roots.
A few years later, Winnebago shook up the B-van market in the same way it had transformed the Class C market a decade earlier. The Travato, based on the Dodge Ram ProMaster chassis, was followed by the Paseo, built on the Ford Transit chassis.
Together with the Sprinter-based Era, they catapulted Winnebago to the top of the B-van market. In the meantime, Winnebago opened a new plant in Lake Mills, Iowa, to handle Class B production.
In 2015, the company purchased the assets of Country Coach in Junction City, Oregon. Ultimately, Junction City would become the home of Winnebago Class A diesel production, freeing up badly needed capacity in Forest City. And In 2016, the company bolstered its presence in the towables market with the purchase of Grand Design.
In the past six months, Winnebago has introduced four game-changing models for a growing and diverse customer base: the award-winning 4×4 Class B Revel, which brings new off-road capability for adventure-seekers; the stylishly contemporary, award-winning Horizon diesel pusher; the user-friendly Class A Intent and the lightweight Minnie Plus fifth wheel.
As the next chapter dawns, enthusiasts can be certain that RVs will continue to evolve, and that Winnebago will continue to lead the way.
Shop all 4 x 4 2018 Winnebago Revels for sale
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And, happy 60th, Winnebago! Check out the beautiful, older, pre-2000 Winnebagos for sale here.
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