What's the difference between a manufactured home and a mobile home?
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
There is none. Manufactured home is just a new name for the same product: a transportable home made in a factory on a steel frame with wheels, to a national building code standard established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), that is towed to a homesite, where it is set on a foundation and the wheels removed. In the industry, it is also called a HUD-Code home.
The evolution of the name is an interesting bit of American history. The surge in popularity of automobile travel in the 1920s provided the impetus for the first “trailers,” a name coined because early camping vehicles “trailed” behind vacationers’ motorcars. They were homemade, with wood frame set on a salvaged auto chassis, and became instantly popular.
Manufacturers began producing trailers in the 1930s. They became a familiar sight, especially on highways west like Route 66, and the size and sophisticated features of travel trailers expanded over the years. Soon families, especially those of itinerant workers in industries like road and bridge construction, began to live full-time in their trailers, which had grown to a then-amazing 8-feet wide. The bigger versions became known as “house trailers,” and appeared in Hollywood movies like The Long, Long Trailer, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
State highway restrictions limited the width and length of trailers until an industry veteran, Elmer Frey, found a loophole in the law that allowed him to begin selling his new “TenWide” model. The innovation caused a furor at the 1954 Florida Mobile Home Exposition, with some manufacturers claiming he was destroying the industry by breaking through the 8-foot width barrier.
But the Trailer Coach Manufacturers Association had just changed its name to the Mobile Home Manufacturers Association (MHMA) the year before, with manufacturers of travel trailers (called “recreational vehicles” today) breaking away to form a separate association. Change was happening rapidly in the industry, and manufacturers had renamed their new, larger product a “mobile home”—primarily to create some distance from the shoddy reputation that trailers and, specifically, trailer parks had acquired over the years.
The shape of the homes was changing too; away from the aerodynamic, rounded corners to a more house-like design. Further image buffing occurred in the 1975, when the MHMA changed its name to the Manufactured Housing Institute. It also managed to get HUD to mandate a few years later that HUD-code homes formerly known as “mobile homes” could only be called “manufactured homes.”
So, over the course of the 20th century, trailers became house trailers, which became mobile homes, and finally manufactured homes. If you want to read more about the colorful history of the manufactured home industry, we suggest getting a copy of Wheel Estate - The Rise And Decline Of Mobile Homes, by Allan D. Wallis (Oxford University Press, 1991).
Also, see our blog post When were the first double-wide mobile homes manufactured?
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