Travelog: Origin of the Flying W

Another travelog entry from our trip to Iowa.

Winnebago is a well known name in the motorhome business and has been for years. Several publications have written up histories of the company. There are links at the end of this post to them.

But no one has explained the origin of the “Flying W” itself.

Until now.

In Dubuque, IA, there is a historic boat, the William M. Black, moored as a showcase for the dredging boats that helped build the Mississippi into the working river it is today. Back in the day, it was up and down the river, working to clear channels deep and wide. The picture above is from its current home at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa.

As you look at the photo at the top of this post, you can clearly see the W built into the front of the boat. Seems pretty obvious, right. But back in the days before mobile phones, Facebook, and Instagram, people didn’t see things that weren’t in their town very often.

As the story goes, little Timmy Johnson was visiting Dubuque with his parents. They had come from Forest City, IA for a bit of work and a bit of vacation. Timmy’s dad worked for a new outfit in Forest City, called “Winnebago”. His dad was meeting some other people to talk about Winnebago and they had decided to make a family trip out of it.

Timmy was at that age where he was starting to read. He was a bit precocious, reading everything that was in front of him. This is important.

It was a Tuesday. And the meeting was on Wednesday. This is also important.

Tuesday was bright and sunny, but windy, and Timmy and his parents were on a drive down the river. As they drove south, they came upon the William M Black dredging at a spot along the west bank. They stopped for a while and watched.

As Timmy was inclined to do, he read the name of the boat out loud. But then, this being the 50s and all, there wasn’t a lot of other things to read near the road. There was a couple of Star beer cans, but he had gotten in trouble the last time he had read the word “beer” out loud so he knew to ignore it. Without anything to read, Timmy soon got bored.

He was staring out at the boat, watching it work. The wind had picked up, creating a few whitecaps. The water churned in front of the stationary boat and the muck oozed out as it was pumped out on shore back behind. As he stared, he suddenly realized that the metal superstructure on the front of the boat was a “W”. A “W” like his dad’s company “Winnebago”. The wind kicked up again and the flags attached to the W flapped aggressively.

Timmy then shouted out those fateful words: “Dad! Dad! That looks like a “Flying W! Like your company Winnebago!” Words that, to this day, are etched on the back of every Flying W logo attached to a Winnebago Motorhome.

You see, the very next day, when Timmy’s dad was at his meeting in Dubuque on that fateful Wednesday, he now had the idea for the new company logo. The fact that the meeting was about stuffing for mattresses and Timmy’s dad worked nowhere near the marketing department did cause a slight delay in getting the whole idea going.

But the rest is, as they say, history. Or at least Travelog history.

For actual, factual, history, please check these links.

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