“I was wearing my Italian leather hand laced moto jacket. Sophisticated yet different; nothing to make a huge fuss about. Rich dark brown calfskin leather – wooden buttons. Matching leather vent. Men’s whole and half sizes. Price: $135.00.” – J Peterman

We’re All Metal Fans -whether you know it or not.

That jacket sounds pretty fancy right?  Well, that was the point of the J Peterman catalog on Seinfeld.  However, that jacket that I just described has no included metal or any construction techniques that include metal.  Camping and metals go hand in hand in our current day.  Zippers on backpacks, hats, tents, and so many other items.  Tent stakes, RV chassis, cookware, utensils, hot-dog roasting sticks, clips for hammocks, camp stoves, headlamps, camp chairs, tent poles, and the list goes on.  Metal, metal, metal.  We are metal fans.

What is fascinating is how metal has changed modern camping.  Steel and Aluminum used to be rare.  So what changed?

Aluminum was properly discovered by a dutch scientist in the 1820s.  He could only make small amounts of pure aluminum and the metal has strange properties when compared with other metallic elements.  It was highly prized and valuable.  So much so that the cap on the top of the Washington monument was topped with the world’s most valuable metal…Aluminum.  Extracting and refining aluminum got better and better through the industrial revolution and it was starting to show up in the hands of average Americans.  Through the early 1900s aluminum was part of the new airplane industry, automobiles, and consumer appliances.  Then world war II started and messed up…everything.

Steel too was considered rare.  Early steels were made as far back as 4000 BC but nothing in great quantity until the 1800s.  The Bessemer process made steel production quick and affordable.  Steel quickly became a part of daily life.  It was integral in the automobile industry in the early 1900s and, therefore, a natural choice for trailers and other small RVs, like the teardrop trailer, that were produced at that time.  Then world war II stared and messed up…everything.

During the war, metal was used primarily for vehicles and weaponry.  It was rationed at home.  People cut down their metal fences to aid the war effort.  Manufacturers stockpiled both aluminum and steel for use in the production of tanks, ships, aircraft, and explosives.  Rosie the Riveter became the icon of the domestic front of WWII and Rosie was forever tied to metals.  Then the war ended…just like that.

Suddenly these manufacturers had no orders for military equipment but they still provided millions of jobs and had massive stockpiles of aluminum and steel.  Fearing another economic downturn and wanting to address the growing housing crisis, the government started a housing program to help the manufacturers produce modular homes.  Factories that had previously produced tanks were now punching out automobiles.  Those that were making airplanes retooled for mobile home & RV production.  New young families now had quick housing options and it was due to metal surpluses.  If you haven’t seen “The Long Long Trailer” staring Lucile Ball, you should check it out.  It was made at the high point of the trailer frenzy following WWII.  Plus, it is painfully funny.

Young families decided to explore their own nation for recreation and teardrop trailers and other small RVs became very common.  Then Detroit introduced the V8 Engine with Overhead Cams and automobiles suddenly had much more power.  RVs scaled to match.  They got bigger and boxier.

That’s really were we still are with most RVs and all of it because of WWII metal surpluses.

So no matter if you’re backpacking or “camping” in a million dollar RV with 4 TVs and granite counter-tops, you wouldn’t be able to do it the way you do without those metals.  Aren’t you thankful?!

A listener of our Simple Camping Podcast recently brought this topic up in an email.  I found it interesting to consider.  He also asked how the RV industry was being affected by the recent US government moves with tariffs and trade negotiations.  We had a good exchange on that topic.  That, I think, is a good topic for another blog and podcast.

We’ll catch you in the next one Campers!

– Mark

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