History of Teardrop Camper Trailer
A teardrop trailer, also known as a teardrop camper trailer, is a streamlined, compact, lightweight travel trailer which gets its name from its teardrop profile. Teardrop trailers usually have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear.
The Evolution of Teardrop Trailer
Teardrop camper trailers evolved in the 1930’s and became extremely popular in the 1940’s after World War II. The Depression was over and the war had given the economy a large boost. The citizens of the US wanted to go on vacation with their families.
The United States was developing the highway system and that made travel easier. The teardrop trailer was light weight and could easily be pulled behind the family car which in the 1930’s and 1940’s had an engine under 100 horse powers, or in some cases a motorcycle.
Most of the original Teardrop trailers were constructed with materials obtained from World War II surplus markets. The chassis were made of steel U channel or from round steel tubing, and in some cases the wheels came from jeeps that were salvaged and found a new life on a teardrop trailer. The exterior skins were usually made from the aluminum wings of World War II bombers which gave the Teardrop trailers their shiny exteriors. Some Teardrop trailers are called Woodys due to the wood sides.
Teardrop trailers first became popular in the 1930s and remained so until the mid-1960s, when they disappeared from mainstream camping. However, in recent years teardrop trailers have made resurgence and are again growing in popularity.
The February, 1940 issue of Popular Mechanics ran a story and plans for an egg-shaped teardrop trailer. It was built on a 1924 Chevrolet Superior front axle with disk wheels from a 1930 Chevrolet.
Structural Design of Teardrops
The floor was of tongue-and-groove oak over a spruce chassis. The exterior was 1/8″ pressed board sealed with varnish. This 9’x5’9-1/2″ floor plan featured a pressurized water tank with running water to a sink, a stove and ice box in the rear kitchenette. The cabin provided standing room beside the double bed for dressing, a small clothes closet, a chemical toilet and a single entry door on the starboard side.
It was at this time that a third party, Dan Pocapalia, became interested in the project. Worman and Pocapalia had been friends and co-workers at Vultee Aircraft in Norwalk during the war. Dan Pocapalia purchased Andy Anderson’s half-interest in Kit Manufacturing Co. for $800. The two of them then had a building, a dream and 60 Fulton trailer hitches. Worman and Pocapalia soon learned that what the public wanted was not a kit, but a completed trailer. They made the decision to produce the trailers in completed form. Pocapalia took responsibility for redesigning the trailer to make it easier to assemble with less waste of raw materials. Worman took on the job of material procurement.
Materials after the war had to be obtained from surplus markets. The chassis was made of 2″x1″ steel U channel, when it could be found, and from 1-1/2″ round tube steel tube otherwise. Wheels were from Jeeps salvaged from sunken ships. Many had bullet holes in them which were welded up. Exterior skin was of .032″ thick 24S-T aircraft grade aluminum.
The first public showing was at Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles in February of 1946. They took 12 completed units to the show and booked 500 firm orders at a dealer cost of $500. Some dealers paid in advance. Many offered to pay a bonus to get early delivery. The 4’x8′ “Kit Kamper” TearDrop Trailer was destined to win the hearts of Americans… and a place in history.
Teardrop trailers, or teardrop campers, have been a pinnacle of the RV community for many decades, named so for their bigger front end that tapers off the back. They’re quite compact and generally only provide room for one or two people to sleep, but they generally save owners a lot of money and allow them to efficiently carry around their belongings without too much hassle. Plus, if you intend to spend most of your time outside your trailer anyway, then why bother buying a huge vehicle?
The Teardrop Camper Beginnings
The teardrop trailer design first appeared throughout magazines such as Mechanix Illustrated and The Home Workshop Magazine starting in 1939. It was first introduced as a “honeymoon house trailer” built by Louis Rogers. It featured an 8’x4’ interior made from pine with a raise-up deck lid featuring rear kitchenette, ice box, and stove. It also came with a double bed, enough standing room for changing, small closet, and a chemical toilet. Essentially, it compressed the necessities of modern living into a very small area that could be towed by virtually any vehicle.
Peak of Popularity
From there, the idea grew; C.W. Worman and Andy Anderson (later replaced by Dan Pocapalia) formed the Kit Manufacturing Co. in 1945, or “Kit Kamper.” Many of the original models had to be built using surplus WW II materials, and often led to welding bullet holes shut and exterior layers being crafted from bomber plane wings. Worman and Pocapalia showcased complete models a year later at the Gilmore Stadium in L.A.. The 12 featured models were met with great enthusiasm and demand for these trailers grew by leaps and bounds.
Teardrop from 1941
Teardrop and Mini Cooper tow vehicle
1957 12.5 ft Aljo
Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the success and demand for teardrop trailers continued to grow. In fact, many manufacturers struggled to keep up with demand. The hands-on adventurers who were initially interested in the teardrop trailer also wanted kits so they could build their own, so the market included a mix of completed models and teardrop kits.
Lull and Resurgence
By the mid-1960s, many consumers wanted a bigger and more luxurious camper, one that could fit the whole family. The teardrop trailer quickly declined in popularity and, for a while, there were only a handful of small workshops you could purchase one of these trailers from or you could spruce up a vintage model.
This lull in production continued until the explosion of the internet in the 1990s where the blueprints could be easily accessed by the general public. On top of that, building materials had become cheaper and easier to use, so you didn’t have to be an expert woodworker to make your own. They’ve also received attention from major media outlets like the Travel Channel, HGTV, and game shows, and have spread in popularity all over the globe.
Inside the Teardrop
While it’s common to make your own bumper trailer, we know that sometimes it’s easier to have a professional do it. A teardrop camper trailer is generally small, ranging from 4 to 6 feet in width and 8 to 10 feet in length. They are usually from 4 to 5 feet in height. Wheels and tires are usually outside the body and are covered by fenders. Since teardrop trailers are so light, usually less than 450 kg (1,000 pounds), just about any vehicle can tow one and gas mileage is minimally affected.
Typically there is room inside a teardrop trailer for two people to sleep as well as storage for clothes and other items. Outside, in the rear under a hatch, there is usually an area for cooking referred to as the galley. Teardrop trailers tend to have lighting and other electrical power supplied by battery, although some have mains power hookups like regular travel trailers.
Some teardrop camper trailer owners participate in organized camping events for teardrop trailers, called “gatherings”. The teardrop trailer phenomenon is not local to any one country. Builders reside throughout the Americas, Europe, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. In Australia they are known as teardrop campers. Their popularity has resulted in the establishment of several commercial manufacturing organizations and in the import of some North American models.
Magazines such as Mechanics Illustrated published plans for teardrop trailers in the mid 1930s. The first teardrops were designed around the idea of utilizing standard 4 by 8-foot sheets of plywood with hardwood spars.
In the late 1990s, plans became available on the internet. Modern day builders found that with the advent of advanced urethane glues, trailers could be built more easily from less expensive woods because the strength of the glue created a monocoque and also compensated somewhat for a lack of professional woodworking skills.
Teardrop trailers have received media exposure on the Travel Channel, HGTV, the Speed Channel, the Price is Right, and the internet.
Whether you currently own a teardrop camper trailer or are looking to purchase or build one, the trailer offers many of the conveniences of camping in a lightweight camper.