A page from the Gerstenslager Company publication, “The Bookmobile Story”, describing the various models of bookmobiles available to order.
If you were in a bookmobile in the 50s or 60s, odds are your were in a Gerstenslager, the company that had a near monopoly on the flood of bookmobiles produced as a result of the 1956 Library Services Act..
Starting in the 19th century as a maker of horse buggies, by the 1920s Gerstenslager had switched to making custom-designed vans. In the 50s, this automobile plant in Wooster, Ohio, found a niche market making specialized vehicles for “libraries, fire rescue departments, dental units, canteens, mobile x-ray units, hospitals and television units used by all the major networks.” The Midwestern manufacturer was awarded the contract for making postal vehicles in the 50s, and also made five “Wienermobiles” for Oscar-Meyer. But Gerstenslager’s claim to fame will always be the bookmobiles.
In 1949, Gerstenslager head A.W. Baehr organized a national tour to show off the Pioneer model of bookmobile at libraries across the country. The advertising worked, and by the mid 60s the company had numerous styles for libraries to choose from. While Gerstenslager made hundreds of bookmobiles, they did not roll off the assembly line. Each was custom built and painted according to the needs the individual library, with the librarians often personally visiting the plant to oversee their vehicle’s production. By some estimates, Gerstenslager enjoyed 90% of the bookmobile market in the post-war boom. The company’s relationship with the library world was such that it even had a representative on the ALA’s board of directors. More than a few libraries nick-named their bookmobile “Gertie.”
“The Bookmobile Story.” Gerstenslager Co., 1963.