While we waited for the tour to begin, we walked around and looked at a couple of RVs on display in the Visitor's Center Lobby.
Next we all watched a film about Winnebago and the RV industry which was very interesting. Before we left to board the tour buses, we each got a safety vest, safety glasses, and ear plugs. Our group was divided into two because it was fairly large.....a class reunion was going on in Forest City.
I don't have any pictures of the tour other than the buses because we were not allowed to take any. I have to say that Mary Jane and I were more than a bit disappointed with the tour. We were given such a personal tour at Phoenix Cruiser in Elkhart where we could see, touch, and ask questions all along the way. When we arrived at the Upholstery shop where they make all the furniture covering, etc., the workers were sweeping up and on their way out the door. The lights even got turned out on us in one section until a worker saw us with the guide and turned them back on so we could see to get out. Next we went to the big building where they add all the elements to the chassis that make the actual motorhome. We were on a walkway way above the line. There were three lines but only the outer two were being used and we were over the center one so you really couldn't see much of what was going on. Just a word of advice, go on the tour but be sure to go in the morning so they will actually be working.
After the tour, we went back into the Visitor's Center and upstairs to a small museum. Back in 1955, Forest City was losing most of their young people because there were no jobs. A Development Group was formed and sold shares to gather $50,000 to start a new industry. They decided on travel trailers and two men were sent to California to hire a manager.
Things didn't go so well and the line was shut down for Labor Day that same year. Five Forest City residents stepped up and purchased the subsidiary which became Winnebago Industries.
John Hanson brought three business practices from his knowledge of the furniture industry which were applied to the production of RVs with great success.
The early 60s brought great growth to the industry and a canning factory was purchased to add additional floor space. A dozen or more units were being turned out every week. The Spring of 1962 saw the first 100 unit week.
A fire broke out in September 1964 and the whole plant including contents was lost at an estimate of $500,000. Plans for a new plant were developed immediately and ground was broken within a month.
The new North Plant was highly automated for it's time following an automotive assembly line model.
Vertical Integration was utilized where Winnebago made most of the components for the RVs themselves providing better quality control.
Displays of models and awards highlight Winnebago's achievements.
Winnebago introduced their first motorhome in 1966 and became the leading motorhome company the same year.
The first Class was introduced in 1971 followed by the Itasca line. Many other first's followed!
Other sidelines followed, some lasted some didn't but the spirit of adventure was always there.
An RV owner started a camping club in 1966 which was later reorganized under sponsorship of Winnebago as WIT (Winnebago International Travelers). A Grand National Rally is held every July right there in Forest City at Winnebago's spacious rally site.