A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SPRINGBAR® TENT
Designed for the car campers and road trippers of mid-century America, still ideal for the modern nomads and campers of today.
In the last century, perhaps no tent design has proven as durable, timeless, and functional as Jack Kirkham’s Springbar Canvas Tent. Since 1961, generations of campers have sworn by its easy one-person set-up, spacious living area, and reliable protection in harsh weather. Behind every great design, there’s a story—and the story of the Springbar Tent is a good one, rooted in the 'yes we can' climate of post WWII America.
Jack Kirkham, born 1918 in Utah, began learning the craft of sewn canvas goods as a teenager while working in his uncle’s tent and awning shop. Shortly after high school, when America united to fight WWII, Jack served his country by working as a draftsman in naval shipyards, honing a talent for 3-dimensional drawing and design that would play well with his future efforts.
Jack Kirkham Sr. learned to draw & design in the naval shipyards of WWII. He never stopped.
As the war came to a close, Jack returned to Utah and in 1945 purchased AAA Tent & Awning—a tiny canvas sew shop in downtown Salt Lake City. They made canvas goods of all kinds, cut and sewn to order: patio awnings, all-purpose tarps, and wall tents for sheepherders and ranchers. Then the prosperous post-war 1950s arrived, and a newly minted middle class fell in love with America’s wild places—it was the golden age for road trips, National Parks, and car camping.
As Jack began to outfit more and more of these new campers with tents and supplies, he began to field complaints from customers about the available tents. They said the designs were too complicated and too time consuming to pitch, too many poles and too many ropes. Here was Jack’s problem, and he resolved to solve it.
In the early ‘60s, Jack had an original design idea, and he built the first Springbar® Tent.
In the early ‘60s, in a stroke of inventive genius, Jack designed and built the first Springbar Tent. The design, clever for its elegant simplicity, only required a few poles, no ropes, and one person to set-up. By utilizing the flex and tension of steel ‘springbar rods,’ the new tent provided the space and comfort of canvas wall tents, but without the complicated and time-consuming set-up. Jack also drew on his extensive knowledge of canvas materials, using only the highest quality cotton duck with a high thread count in his new tents to ensure watertight weather protection and breathability.
Illustrations drawn by Jack to market his new Springbar Tent design
Simple, Reliable, & Strong—Good Utilitarian Design is Timeless.
Looking at the Springbar Tent from the vantage point of today, it’s not hard to see elements of mid-century modernism in the tent’s architecture. The unobstructed interior space, functional and simple set-up, and large windows that bring the outside in—all mark the Springbar as a product of 1950s culture. But unlike many outdoor products from the era, the Springbar Tent remains as relevant today as it was a half-century ago. When it comes to car camping, family camping, and base camps—really any camping situation outside of backpacking—the Springbar tent has few rivals.
Jack's Tent & Camping Equipment showroom in the 1960s
Over the last 60 years, a lot has changed in the camping world, but the Springbar® Tent remains.
After all, good design is timeless. Springbar Tents have been to Mt. Everest’s basecamp, sheltered thousands of boy scouts, and helped countless families enjoy camping in America’s great outdoors. Jack passed away at the age of 89 in 2008, but his legacy lives on every time a Springbar Tent is pitched.
Developed in close collaboration with Jack’s son, Jack Kirkham Jr., the Springbar Highline Series of canvas tents represents nearly 60 years of continual improvement and experience with the Springbar Tent design. We’re thoroughly convinced, despite the prevalence of synthetic fabrics and plastics in modern camping equipment, that the Springbar Canvas Tent is still the best family and car camping tent in existence—the best in terms of space, comfort, easy set-up, weather protection, and long-lasting durability. It’s tent camping at its best. We’re committed to help carry Jack’s legacy forward to the next generation of American campers.