By Douglas Keister
Today’s post will probably only interest my trailer friends and maybe fans of history, for it tells the tale of erroneous and convoluted provenance.Thus, the curious case of Curtis Wright in synopsis form, as I could easily write a couple pages.
When I made my first explorations into trailer history in 2001, I was told that Curtiss-Wright Corporation (a huge corporation that was formed by aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers) made some trailers in the 1940s and was subsequently acquired by Wally Byam the founder of Airstream. When a supposed Curtiss-Wright trailer was pointed out to me, I noticed that the nameplate said Curtis Wright Industries I was told it was a typo or maybe Curtiss-Wright had two “brands”. It seemed unlikely, but that’s what I was told. It sort of made sense because aircraft pioneer Glenn Curtiss developed the fifth wheel trailer in the early 1930s based on aircraft principles.
And here the tale becomes very convoluted. In 1927, a man by the name of Curtis Wright built a small 33-foot wingspan airplane and someone at the United States Department of Commerce erroneously inserted a hyphen into the registration documents, then later documents added an additional “s”. Mr. Curtis Wright even had a small airfield at Halfway, Michigan near Detroit. It was alternately named Curtis Wright Airport and Selfridge Field. By World War II Curtis Wright was making inexpensive trailers, small airplanes and had plans for a small helicopter. In 1944, Curtis Wright Industries was making trailers sheathed in “homosote” a material similar in composition to papier-mâché. After the war, Wally Byam, who had been working for Curtis Wright after Byam’s Airstream company had gone bankrupt, convinced Curtis Wright to let Byam design a streamlined aluminum trailer based on Byam’s earlier Airstreams. That trailer was called a Curtis Wright and bears a nameplate stating Curtis Wright Industries Los Angeles. After a couple years of production, Byam and Curtis parted ways. Byam restarted Airstream and Curtis Wright sold his trailer manufacturing to a company that became Silver Streak. Thus, for a few years Byam’s Airstream actually competed with is own design at Silver Streak. WHEW!
Got all that? There is more to the story, but those are the basics. It is very difficult to research, even on the Internet since search engines ask, “did you mean Curtiss-Wright?” and even when you try to specify “Curtis Wright” in quotes the results are very mixed. See, I told you I could write pages!
I belive Patty Rossall Dobbs and Eric Dobbs may have or have knowledge of a Curtis Wright Industries bread loaf or canned ham trailer. I’m tagging a few of my trailer friends who may want to post this on some vintage trailer websites.