Thor Industries, the world’s largest RV manufacturer, was created by Wade F.B. Thompson, a wealthy immigrant from New Zealand, and Peter Busch Orthwein, an heir to the Busch brewing fortune.
Having previously together purchased Hi-Lo, a manufacturer of unique, expandable travel trailers, Thompson and Orthwein came together again in 1980 to acquire Airstream, the oldest existing RV company. Beatrice Foods, a well-known food distributor, sold Airstream because they were unsuccessful in their venture into the American RV world – primarily due to the economic conditions created by the fuel embargoes and extreme interest rates of the 1970s.
In creating a name for their new holding company, Thompson supplied the TH from his name, and Orthwein provided the OR from his name. A venture, sounding like the evolution of a Greek god, was created.
Airstream’s new business plan worked on reducing costs and emphasizing quality. With 50 years of worldwide name recognition, Airstream returned to profitability in its first year under Thor leadership. Over the ensuing 40 years, the partners acquired many successful RV and transport bus manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada. In most cases, as additional brands joined the Thor family, the existing leadership and management was maintained to keep the successful business model alive and growing.
While both Hi-Lo and Airstream were Ohio-based companies, by the early 1990s Thor began to focus its attention mostly on Elkhart, Indiana. Over the next 30 years they acquired a large collection of Indiana companies and a few Canadian and U.S. West Coast operations.
The Thor path to dominate the RV industry included the acquisitions of:
1982 – Citation, Corsair and General Coach
1986 – Okanogan
1988 – El Dorado
1989 – Traveleze
1991 – Dutchman, National and Four Winds
1995 – Komfort, Skamper and Aerolite
1996 – Thor California
1998 – Champion
2001 – Keystone
2003 – Damon and Breckenridge
2004 – Crossroads
2005 – Goshen Coach
2010 – Heartland (which had just acquired the rights to 29 brand names of the towable division of the bankrupt Fleetwood Enterprises, including Prowler, Terry, Mallard, and Wilderness)
2013 – Livin’ Lite and Bison
2014 – K-Z
By the late part of the first decade of the 21st century, Thor had moved its headquarters to Elkhart and was locked in an annual tug-o-war with Forest River, another industry giant, over which company was the world’s largest. The argument was settled in 2016 when Thor acquired 100 percent of the stock of Jayco, which had been arguably the third largest RV manufacturer, cementing Thor’s position as the world’s largest RV manufacturer.