Hawley Bowlus – Innovative Engineer
The Bowlus Road Chief’s history stretches back almost 90 years, with fascinating origins as the creation of designer, engineer and aircraft builder Hawley Bowlus. Best known for his role in building the famed aircraft Spirit of St. Louis and training many of the first glider pilots in the world, Bowlus was determined to design and build a lightweight travel trailer that could transport flight crews to remote takeoff locations. As Bowlus began working on the prototype for what was to become the first travel trailer in the world.
The Original Aluminum Travel Trailer
In 1934, Bowlus completed construction on the first aluminum riveted travel trailer. Weighing in at 1,100 pounds, the Road Chief was considered revolutionary for its advanced engineering. His designs quickly found both admirers and would-be copycats, including Wally Byam of Airstream, who attempted to duplicate his work.
The mid-1930s were a busy time for the fledgling travel trailer company with deep California roots. A Road Chief appeared in the 1935 Hollywood movie Red Salute starring Cliff Edwards and Barbara Stanwyck. In 1936, Popular Mechanics covered the Road Chief widely, while Sunset Magazine ran two long-form stories chronicling the West family’s Road Chief adventures. Clark Gable and Carol Lombard ordered a Road Chief, as did Merle Norman, the cosmetic queen. Another two served in the California Highway Patrol. Almost a decade after the first Road Chief had hit the road, Lois Neidermeyer of Arizona drove a Road Chief up the Alaska Highway.
Sought by Collectors
At the Road Chief’s peak popularity, Bowlus produced an estimated eighty travel trailers in assorted designs before he returned full-time to the aircraft industry in 1937. But Bowlus had chosen his building materials to last, and they did: over half of the original Bowlus Road Chiefs built in the 1930s are still around today, often held in private collections. The last one publicly traded hands in 2011 at the Gooding & Co Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona for $187,000.
Modern History: A Love For Adventure
Geneva Long, Founder and CEO of Bowlus Road Chief, began conceptualizing the return of the Bowlus Road Chief brand while at the Wharton School. Geneva's passion for the Bowlus Road Chief combines her love for adventure with the challenge of creating meaningful user-centered, sustainable design.
Her connection to the Bowlus Road Chief is decades old. Geneva’s first experience with a vintage Bowlus Road Chief occurred when her family sought an RV after the completion of a 3,000-mile North American road trip.
Innovation & Sustainability
Geneva has elevated the travel experience for modern adventurers by reimagining the original aluminum travel trailer as today's most advanced RV. Her love of craftsmanship includes using the highest quality materials with fanatical attention to detail.
Geneva leads with a vision to create a sustainable movement in the RV industry. Designed and built to last for generations, every Bowlus Road Chief is restorable in the future based on proprietary design and production methods. Geneva has been named to the Forbes 2020 30 Under 30 List.
Bowlus Road Chief has achieved many industry firsts that include:
• The first female-founded RV company
• The first with heated floors and life-work solutions that include the first charging stations/router/wifi amplifier for personal technology
• The first direct to consumer model in the RV market with sales generated online
• The ultra-luxury market for travel trailers
• The first lithium-powered travel trailer with sophisticated power management systems
• The first truly sustainable RV
Serving Modern Adventurers
"We are guided by simplicity and reductive design principles that better connect people to what they love. We are known for many technological firsts, including heated floors, charging stations for devices, flexible space options, and clever lithium power management systems that extend the Road Chief experience off-grid. However, most importantly, the foundation of the Bowlus Road Chief design rests on a vision of intuitive user experience and sustainability that creates amazing and memorable life-enhancing experiences for our owners for a lifetime of adventures." - Geneva Long