How Winnebago Became The Most Iconic Motorhome In America

Some brand names are so popular that they’ve become a general term – things like Q-Tips, Band-Aids, Kleenex, and Jell-O.  Winnebago is another one that’s become a household name. Sometimes you hear someone use it to describe any kind of motorhome.

You see the famous “flying W” logo almost every time you pull into a campground, no matter where you are. How did this company become the most iconic brand name for motorhomes in America? Let’s explore the reasons.

Winnebago Industries Is One of the Largest RV Manufacturers Today 

After more than 60 years of producing RVs, Winnebago is an undisputed leader in the industry. It’s one of the largest manufacturers of motorhomes and reported revenue of $2.4 billion last year. Other major players include Thor Industries and Forest River.

Read on to find out what all Winnebago produces. You may be surprised.

Winnebago Began as a Project To Bring Jobs to the Area of Forest City, Iowa

The man behind the company was actually in the mortuary business back in 1957. Much of the United States enjoyed post-war prosperity, but Forest City, Iowa, was in a slump.

Funeral home owner John K. Hanson, who loved to go camping, went into business as a travel trailer dealer. Before long, he convinced one of his suppliers in California to set up a shop in his neck of the woods. He hoped it would mean employment opportunities for his neighbors.

About Modernistic Industries

A year later, Modernistic Industries opened its manufacturing plant on the bank of the Winnebago River. Things didn’t go so well at first, however, and the company went quickly into debt. Hanson believed in its future, however, and assembled a group of businessmen to buy them out.

He changed the company’s name in 1961 to reflect the area’s heritage. Winnebago was the name of the Native American tribe that had inhabited the region. For many years, Winnebago Industries would further its tribal association with model names like Brave and Warrior.

How Winnebago Became A Household Name

Winnebago’s colossal success came gradually as customers became aware of its commitment to quality and innovation. Early on, Hanson adopted the assembly line method of mass production that automaker Henry Ford pioneered.

The company focused on travel trailers for its first few years before rolling out its first motorhome in 1966. Because it carried a sticker price that was much less than competitors’, Winnebago’s reputation for good value began.

Some other factors conspired to make Winnebago a winner. By the late 1960s, the highway system was fully established around the country. Gas was cheap, and people had more disposable income. In addition, there were popular TV shows and movies that celebrated the romance of travel.

More people than ever hit the roads, and they kept seeing Winnebagos out there. They wanted one for themselves.

Winnebago’s Dedication to Customer Service

Sometimes there are problems with even the best RVs, and Winnebago has always been known for quickly addressing them. It sounds like a cliché, but Winnebago’s commitment to customers doesn’t end with the sale. The company has a well-deserved reputation for accessibility and for honoring warranty commitments.

Setting The Bar High and Over-Delivering for Decades

From the start, Winnebago Industries built its components, including furniture. The company came up with many game-changing designs that would become industry standards. One of these innovations was the rugged but lightweight “thermo panel” sidewall construction. It has a layer of foam between the steel exterior and the wood paneling interior.

Winnebago was also one of the first to install full-size kitchen appliances. Classic models also had many conveniences we take for granted today, such as shower cubicles, wardrobes, and carpets. One of their early models, the Chieftain, had a built-in vacuum cleaner that was futuristic at the time.

Brands Currently Owned by Winnebago Industries

The company has expanded over the years beyond the confines of Winnebago County, Iowa. Winnebago Industries also has facilities in Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota, and Florida. They also make Itasca motorhomes, which are identical to Winnebago models other than their name.

Winnebago also owns Newmar and Grand Design RV, and for many years built the Itasca companion line. It is also the parent company to the legendary Chris-Craft boats.

Winnebago Builds Quality RVs to this Day

When gas prices rose sharply in the 1970s, Winnebago immediately came up with models that would use less fuel. This ability to adapt to the times has helped Winnebago move forward. The company has managed to evolve along with RV trends.

The Winnebago Travato, for instance, is the most popular Class B RV on the market today.  It’s just one of several camper vans that Winnebago makes. Class C models include the Ekko, the Navion, the View, and the Winnie Minnie. In the Class A category, they include the Journey, the Adventurer, and the Vista. Travel trailers include the Minnie and the Micro Minnie. Winnebago also makes a fifth wheel called the Voyage.

Back in Iowa, more than 10,000 people a year take a free two-hour factory tour. Imagine that: people lining up to see motorhomes built from scratch. They can also visit an in-house museum that shows off the progression of Winnebago models through the decades.

An American Standard

After decades of success, Winnebago remains maybe the most familiar name in the RV industry. As the company continues to move forward, it will build even more on its incredible history. It’s a winning track record that keeps rolling along.

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