W.K. Kellogg’s “Ark”: An Early Motor Home
Before the 1920’s, only wealthy Americans traveled. But, thanks to Henry Ford, average Americans were able to own a car, and with better jobs, they could even afford to travel. Never mind that in 1921, our roads were a mess and designed for the horse and buggy. But that didn’t stop Americans in the Roaring 20’s.
On August 6, 1921, 35 autos met at Battle Creek’s Willard Park for the start of two-week auto tour led by J. H. Brown. The local historian and adventurer assembled a caravan that ended up with about 200 cars for a trip that ended in Wheeling, West Virginia. Brown had actually started these caravans in 1916, and continued into the depression of the 1930’s.
W. K. Kellogg was bitten by the cross-country travel bug around 1910. The cereal magnate began using his automobiles on extended camping trips as a form of relaxation and also as a way to see the country. In 1923, Kellogg bought “The Ark,” a touring car outfitted as a self-contained camper. It was 27 feet long, and reached a top speed of 35 mph. This forerunner of the Winnebago, built on a White truck chassis, weighed 11,000 pounds and included a 16 foot electric folding boat, a complete galley kitchen with a refrigerator, a shower bath, lavatory, intercommunication system, electric fans, and upholstered seats that folded down into twin beds at night. “The Ark” got 7 miles per gallon, and even though there were almost no radio stations in 1923, it had a radio and a big loudspeaker. It had a combination toaster, boiler, and egg poacher, and running water. “The Ark” was delivered to Mr. Kellogg in 1924, a full year before GM built the first professionally manufactured RV. There’s a great drawing and more info at The Old Motor.
Kellogg even penned an article about it for Popular Science. He wrote, “Like Noah, I have built and Ark. Not that I am anticipating another deluge. On the contrary, my ark, though capable of withstanding severe storms, is strictly a land craft. “ Read the whole article here.
An article in Camping Road Trip says that Kellogg, and insomniac, saw his health improve greatly as a result of traveling and camping.
W.K. Kellogg Foundation Records Management Analyst Alicia Shaver wrote an article about the Ark in Scene Magazine in 2010, as Scene did a special issue on W.K. Kellogg. She writes that Kellogg printed a folder for he chauffer to hand out to curious people he encountered on his trips.