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June 11, 2024

The First RV: Roland R. Conklin’s Motor Bus, 1915

There is a bit of a toss-up when it comes to the first actual “RV” to hit the road. Some say that back in the 1800s when gypsies traveled through Europe in covered wagons, this could be considered the “first RV.” Since the gypsies were capable of living out of their wagon whilst traveling, it is believed that this actually sparked the creation of recreational vehicles.

Now flash forward to 1915 — motor vehicles just started being mass-produced, and nature lovers and car enthusiasts were teaming up with the goal to create the first RV. It wasn’t until 1904, according to the Smithsonian, that the first “RV” was hand-built onto a vehicle. The original prototype motorhome slept four adults on bunk beds, was lit by incandescent lights, had an icebox and a radio.

The first RV prototypes were later refined in 1915 with the creation of the gypsy van. Now don’t let the name mislead you, gypsy vans were far more technologically advanced than the covered wagons gypsies would live out of in the 1800s. The cleverly designed 25-foot, 8-ton conveyance had been custom built by Roland Conklin’s Gas-Electric Motor Bus Company. The gypsy van quickly became a sensation across the nation as people admired the convenience of mobile camping.

Their creation – which included two decks, a kitted-out kitchen, sofas, sleeping berths and an electric generator – hit the headlines as they made their way from Huntington, New York to San Francisco, California. This innovative vehicle would ultimately set the bar for the RVs of the future.

As more Americans became entranced with the idea of smoothing the roughness of wilderness and as camping grew in popularity, more motorhome innovations came about.


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