How Did Elkhart Become the RV Capital of the World?

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Close up of Elkhart, Indiana on a map

You can’t have Elkhart without RVs. If you’ve been RVing for any time, you might have made a trip for repairs to Elkhart, Indiana, or you’ve put the city on your must-visit list to see the RV Hall of Fame. 

But why is Elkhart considered the “RV Capital of the World?” And is the city worth visiting? Let’s look at this area of northern Indiana!

Where Is Elkhart?

Elkhart is located near the Michigan border in northern Indiana. The city sits between Interstate-80/90 to the north and Highway 20 to the south. Notre Dame University is about a 30-minute drive west. 

Lake Michigan lies a little over an hour west. Fort Wayne is the closest large city, approximately 70 miles southeast of Elkhart.

View of Elkhart, Indiana, the RV capital of the world

What Is Elkhart, Indiana, Known For?

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana are known for their Amish populations. A large number of the Amish live in the Elkhart area. Many of the RV companies in Elkhart, Middlebury, Goshen, and Shipshewana, Indiana, hire employees from the Amish community. 

But Elkhart is also known as the “RV Capital of the World.” Here you’ll find a huge, reliable, and hard-working workforce. It makes a great area to manufacture RVs due to the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad Company. It makes moving goods in and out of Elkhart, Indiana, very easy.

Another industry that has its home in Elkhart is the musical instrument industry. The city is also called the “Band Instrument Capital of the World.” C.G. Conn invented a special cornet mouthpiece and began manufacturing band instruments in the 1870s. 

Other companies came to Elkhart — much like the beginnings of the RV industry — and by the 1970s, about 40% of worldwide band instruments were made in Elkhart.

Employees working in a motorhome manufacturer factory
Berlin, Germany – June 08, 2012: quality control of finished assembly of motorhomes / camper vans in the production line in a factory

What RV Brands Are in Elkhart, Indiana?

This region in northern Indiana is home to dozens of RV manufacturers. Alliance RV, Heartland, and Thor Motor Coach are just a few in Elkhart. Dutchmen, Forest River, and Keystone have their headquarters nearby in Goshen. 

Grand Design RV, Jayco, and Winnebago towables have headquarters in Middlebury. Gulf Stream, Newmar, Renegade, and DRV also have facilities in this area.

How Did Elkhart Become the RV Capital of the World?

In 1936, Wilbur Schult bought Elkhart’s Sportsman Trailer Company. The major highways and railroads connecting Elkhart to larger markets made shipping easy and convenient. Schult promoted the area and attracted other manufacturers and suppliers.

But it wasn’t just his ability to influence and promote. Schult was also a savvy businessman and grew his trailer company. 

By 1939, his company was the largest in the industry. He was also innovative, extending ceilings to 8 feet, using full steel frames, and installing early air conditioning systems before anyone else. 

As a result of Schult’s professional success and the growing RV industry, magazines started calling Elkhart the “RV Capital of the World” by the late 1940s.

How Many RVs Are Manufactured in Elkhart Every Year?

Over 80% of America’s RVs are produced annually in Elkhart, Indiana. As you walk around a local campground, eight out of every 10 RVs will likely come from northern Indiana. The RV industry employs over 250,000 people and brings in over $73 billion annually just from manufacturers and suppliers.

In 2021, a record-setting 600,000 RVs were sent to dealers nationwide. Total shipments increased by about 40% over shipments in 2020. Although shipments and sales were down in 2022, they were still higher than in previous years.

Inside an RV manufacturer at Elkhart, Indiana

Elkhart has embraced its identity as the RV Capital of the World. If you’re an RVer, there are a few RV-related things you’ll want to do when you visit northern Indiana, like take a factory tour, visit the Hall of Fame, and attend an RV show.

Take an RV Factory Tour

With so many RV production facilities in the area, you have plenty of options to book a tour during your visit. You can visit each manufacturer’s website for the available days and times. All locations require reservations.

For example, Keystone RV offers factory tours specific to the RV. The company gives Cougar tours on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Springdale tours on Tuesdays at 1 p.m.

Thor Motor Coach offers tours on different days at various plants like Keystone RV. To visit the facility where the company makes the Chateau line, you’ll want to book a Monday tour at 3 p.m. To visit the facility where the Gemini is built, you’ll want to book a Thursday tour at 3 p.m.

Other manufacturers offer one set time regardless of the line you want to tour. For example, Grand Design gives factory tours Monday through Thursday at 1 p.m.

Keep in Mind: Are you interested in a custom RV? Then you need to consider These Manufacturers for a custom rig!

A group smiling inside an RV manufacturer factory at Elkhart, Indiana

Visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame

You can’t visit Elkhart, Indiana, without spending an hour or so at the RV/MH Hall of Fame. It’s open daily and showcases the history of the RV industry in one half of the museum and the history of the manufactured home industry in the other half. 

Tickets range from $12 to $20, and the museum offers a family special for $45. It’s also a Harvest Host location where RVers can sleep for the night.

The RV Founders Hall displays trailers and memorabilia dating back to the 1920s. As you walk through the exhibits, you’ll peruse the advancements in the RV industry chronologically. 

For example, near the beginning of the hall, you’ll see Mae West’s 1931 Chevrolet Housecar. Towards the end of the museum, you’ll see a 1985 Fleetwood Bounder.

Many of the older trailers are off-limits to visitors to preserve their conditions. However, you can walk through other motorhomes and campers on display. 

The popular KYD Bluebird is at the museum, and visitors can walk inside to get an up-close view of the bus that took the Leach family along Route 66.

An RV at an RV manufacturer in Elkhart, Indiana

Attend the Midwest RV Super Show

The RV/MH Hall of Fame hosts the Midwest RV Super Show every year. Tickets cost $10 for anyone 16 and older.

RV shows are great ways to look at new technologies and innovative designs, even if you’re not in the market for a new RV. 

With hundreds of motorhomes and towable RVs in the pavilion at the Hall of Fame, you’ll have plenty to see over the event’s four days.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Elkhart, Indiana?

Everything in Elkhart, Indiana, operates year-round. But if you want the most pleasant temperatures, avoid the summer heat. Highs are regularly around 85 degrees but can reach over 90. 

Summer is tourist season, too, so you might find cheaper rates and tickets by visiting during the spring or fall shoulder seasons. However, pay attention to the dates of the Midwest RV Super Show. Usually, this event happens in mid-August.

Keep in Mind: So how many RV brands does Thor Industries own? Let’s find out!

Is Visiting the RV Capital of the World Worth It?

For an RVer, there’s no place like Elkhart, Indiana. It has a small-town feel with sprawling farms and Amish buggies. But you’ll also see huge plants and facilities home to many of the RV giants in the industry. It’s a unique place!

Additionally, Indiana Dunes National Park is only about an hour west of the city. Indianapolis is less than three hours south, and Grand Rapids is less than two hours north. 

You could even take a day trip to Chicago, which is about two hours from Elkhart, depending on traffic. So you have plenty to do to keep you busy for a few days.

Have you ever ventured to the RV Capital of the World?

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