Dating back to the 50's, Winnebago is possibly THE most well-known RV maker in the US and a household name.
The Winnebago Company was founded in February 1958 by businessman John K. Hanson in Forest City, Winnebago County, Iowa. At that time, the town was suffering from a serious economic downturn. John K. Hanson and a group of the Forest City community leaders convinced a California company called Modernistic Industries, to open a ‘travel trailer’ factory, in a bid to try and revive the local economy.
After surviving a pretty rough beginning, the complete operation was subsequently purchased by a consortium of five businessmen from the Midwest, with John K Hanson acting as president. In 1960 they changed the name of the company to ‘Winnebago Industries’.
To improve build quality Winnebago Industries manufactured furniture and other components which were designed purely for its ‘travel trailers’. One of the major innovations during this period was the aptly named "Thermo-Panel," This was a very strong but lightweight sidewall that became a characteristic part of all future Winnebago products.
In 1966 the first true production Motorhome (RV) rolled off the assembly lines of Winnebago Industries. These’ Winnebagos’ were sold at a price which was almost half of that which their competitors were charging for similar models, which led to its widespread use and popularity by RV enthusiasts. The Winnebago brand name has since become synonymous with the words ‘Motorhome’ and ‘RV’ and is commonly used as a generic term for Motorhomes and RVs , whether manufactured by Winnebago Industries or not. .
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s Winnebago model names were based around the Native American tribes of the same name and these included the Brave, Chief, Black Hawk, Indian, Chieftain, and Warrior. Some of the older Winnebagos are quite recognisable by the stylised "W" (or the "Flying W" as it is sometimes called) on the sides of the vehicle. This is connected to the front and back of the RV by a matching coloured stripe.
In 1973 Winnebago Industries introduced a brand new and innovative model which they called the ‘Minnie Winnie’ which they initially built on the Dodge B-series van chassis. It was about 19.5 feet (5.9 m) long and despite being named the Minnie it was actually longer than the shortest equivalent Brave model.
Longer models were added through the production years, using Chevrolet or Ford chassis after 1980, until the name was discontinued after the 2006 model when it had achieved a massive length of 30 feet (9.1 m), when it ceased to be ‘Minnie’ any more! As fuel prices rose dramatically over the years, the company decided to make smaller models available, such as the "Winnie Wagon," with a low profile and ‘pop-top’.
The Itasca line was introduced in 1975 and in 1977 Winnebago Industries built its 100,000th unit - the first RV manufacturer to reach that production level. The company continued to grow in the 1980s, with sales of over $400 million per year.
1986 was a year of more firsts for Winnebago Industries. The company celebrated 20 years of motor home production - the first RV manufacturer to reach that milestone. In 1986 the company also was the first to produce 200,000 motor homes.
Winnebago Industries also developed a series of smaller vehicles which were slightly larger than a standard passenger van. They built these using various chassis and power plants from two European van and lorry manufacturers.
The "LeSharo" used French Renault parts, and the "Rialta" used a German Volkswagen T4, also known as the "EuroVan” chassis using the 2.5 litre, 5-cylinder engine, and the 2.8 litre VR6 engine.
Distinct from the "Rialta", Volkswagen decided to have the conversions of the T4 to be done by Winnebago Industries, which was a complete change from using the Germany-based Westfalia company that had become famous for building the Volkswagen Type 2 campers built from the 1950s through to 1991. This tradition continues today with Winnebago now using the superb Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis.
Despite closure of their Charles City, IA plant in 2008 and further redundancies throughout the company, Winnebago Industries continues to be a success. In 2010 it was announced that Winnebago Industries is the top-selling motorhome manufacturer in the US, for the ninth year running, with nearly 20% of the market share.
The current model range features some stunning A-Class motorhomes such as the Vista, the Journey and the Adventurer, as well as the Aspect and Access models at the smaller end of the scale.