The History of Mobile Homes

First Traced Back to Roaming Bands of Gypsies

Trailer park, Norfolk, England, UK
Construction Photography/Avalon / Getty Images

A mobile home is a prefabricated structure built in a factory on a permanently attached chassis before being transported to a site (either by being towed or on a trailer). Used as permanent homes or for holiday and temporary accommodation, they are usually left permanently or semi-permanently in one place. However, they can be moved since property may be required to relocate from time to time for legal reasons.

Mobile homes share the same historic origins as travel trailers. Today the two are very different in size and furnishings, with travel trailers being used primarily as temporary or vacation homes. Behind the cosmetic work fitted at installation to hide the base, there are strong trailer frames, axles, wheels, and tow-hitches.

The Earliest Moveable Homes

The first examples of mobile homes can be traced back to the roaming bands of gypsies who traveled with their horse-drawn mobile homes as far back as the 1500s.

In America, the first mobile homes were built in the 1870s. These were movable beach-front properties built in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. The homes were moved by teams of horses.

Mobile homes as we know them today came about in 1926 with automobile-pulled trailers or "Trailer Coaches." These were designed as a home away from home during camping trips. The trailers later evolved into "mobile homes" that were brought into demand after World War II ended. Veterans came home needing housing and found dwellings to be in short supply. Mobile homes provided cheap and quickly built housing for the veterans and their families (the beginning of the baby boom) and being mobile allowed the families to travel where the jobs were.

Mobile Homes Get Bigger

In 1943, trailers averaged a width of eight feet and were more than 20 feet in length. They had up to three to four separate sleeping sections, but no bathrooms. But by 1948, lengths had gone up to 30 feet and bathrooms were introduced. Mobile homes continued to grow in length and widths such as doublewide.

In June of 1976, the United States Congress passed the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Act (42 U.S.C.), which assured that all homes were built to tough national standards.

From Mobile Home to Manufactured Housing

In 1980, congress approved changing the term "mobile home" to "manufactured home." Manufactured homes are built in a factory and must conform to a federal building code.

A tornado might cause minor damage to a site-built home, but it could do significant damage to a factory-built home, especially an older model or one that is not properly secured. Seventy mile-per-hour winds can destroy a mobile home in a matter of minutes. Many brands offer optional hurricane straps, which can be used to tie the home to anchors embedded in the ground.

Mobile Home Parks

Mobile homes are often situated in land-lease communities known as trailer parks. These communities allow homeowners to rent space on which to place a home. In addition to providing space, the site often provides basic utilities such as water, sewer, electricity, natural gas and other amenities such as mowing, garbage removal, community rooms, pools, and playgrounds.

There are thousands of trailer parks in the United States. Although most parks appeal to meeting basic housing needs, some communities specialize towards certain segments of the market such as senior citizens. 

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "The History of Mobile Homes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). The History of Mobile Homes. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Mobile Homes." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).