RV History with Al Hesselbart
Popular selling features of RVs today, such as slide outs, are much older than most RVers realize. Almost every RV feature inside motorhomes, trailers and fifth wheels (other than furniture and appliances) was known before 1920. Modern rigs seem to require slide outs as a selling feature; nobody wants an RV without one (or multiple).
The slide out wall section was introduced in 1915 when San Francisco camper builder Gustav Bretteville presented what he advertised as an “Automobile Telescoping Apartment.” The “apartment” sold for $100 and was a box designed to sit on the back of a Model T Ford Runabout. The Runabout was a two-seater version of the Model T with a shelf on the back to carry a few pieces of cargo. It replaced the small cargo container with a box approximately four feet square with a domed top. An extension manually telescoped out of the box, which provided space to include a mattress for sleeping. Two legs supported it. The “apartment” was set up when smaller slide rooms were pulled out on either side of the extension section (a slide within a slide?). One side contained a fold-down kitchen area, including a small pantry space, and the other provided a chest of drawers for storage.
Additional options for the apartment included a shower with water supplied from a bladder that was laid on the roof (and then filled once in position). The water was heated by using a hose routed through the radiator with heat provided by the engine. A canvas curtain surrounding the showerhead protected privacy.
Since radio and TV ads had not yet been conceived, and RV travel magazines were unknown, advertising for this (and other early RV creations) was distributed in magazines, such as Popular Science, in which photos similar to the above were seen in a 1916 edition.