1 October

Semi-trucks are the backbone of the trucking industry; they are our babies, our home away from home. But, how much do you actually know about the history of the semi-truck? We looked into the history and development of one of the most influential vehicles in history.

Sit back, relax, and let us take you down memory lane, through the evolution of the semi-truck.

Before the age of trucks

Before trucks were a thing, up until the 19th century, goods used to be transported by horse-drawn carriages, which wasn’t a very efficient way of hauling freight – it took a long time because there weren’t any paved roads connecting cities and rural areas, and two horses hauling cargo could only go so fast before they got tired and they couldn’t carry very much weight.

Trains were a more efficient way of transporting freight (they could transport large quantities and a wide variety of goods pretty quickly), but railroads only connected large cities that had train stations. The growth and development of rural areas were quite limited because of that, and they were heavily dependent on horse-drawn carriages. However, all of that was about to change.

The First Hauler

You see, it all started with a man called Alexander Winton. In 1896, Winton was working on his new business idea – he was going to make handcrafted automobiles. The following year, he founded the Winton Motor Carriage Company in Cleveland. He was determined to successfully market and sell his cars; he took one of his cars to the Cleveland horse track and wowed the audience by reaching 33.64 Mph, and in order to prove the endurance of the automobile, one of his cars was driven from Cleveland to New York City, which is an 800 mile drive. Eventually, he started winning people over and they started buying his cars. This is where we reach a turning point.

Winton’s business was going very well and he had buyers all over the country, which proved itself a bit of an issue. He needed a way to get the cars to the customers, without having to drive them and depreciate their value. This drove him to make the first auto hauler by converting one of his standard models into a tractor and attaching a trailer to the rear. The hauler proved to be a success, and soon people would start to see its impact on their lives. By 1910, several improvements have been made on the trucks themselves, as well as the roads, and in 1914 there were around 100,000 trucks in America.

The guy with a boat

Frederic M. Sibley needed a way to transport his boat and he enlisted the help of a blacksmith and carriage maker August Charles Fruehauf to make a trailer. Fruehauf rose to the challenge and eventually founded the Fruehauf Trailer Company in 1918. People from various industries recognized the advantages of Fruehauf’s trailers and started buying them. Even the military used them in both World Wars, and during the Korean War. During wartime, trucks were continuously improved and one of the most important changes was the tires – they noticed that they could travel much further on inflated tires and wooden wheels were history.

Major changes ahead

As the need for trucks increased, various improvements were implemented. Once they started running on diesel, fuel efficiency went through the roof! Compared to gasoline engines, diesel was up to 40% more efficient. Trucks and trailers started being standardized, and power-assisted steering and brakes were game-changers. Trucks had become so popular that every state had specific truck weight regulations by the 1930s.

The biggest change came in 1956 when The Federal Highway Act was enacted by President Eisenhower. This bill saw the construction of over 40,000 miles of interstate highway, over 10 years. The $25 billion project (which is around $232 billion today) would connect the whole country and change freight transportation forever.

One of the biggest changes which significantly affected the way goods were transported was the invention of the new shipping container. Malcolm McLean introduced a modern way of transporting freight in standardized metal containers that allowed the transportation of fluids, and they proved to be highly efficient considering that they could easily be transferred to ships and trains.

Present Day

The trucking industry has had its ups and downs, but as of 2017, there have been 15.5 million trucks on the road in the U.S that are responsible for transporting 71% of all goods. In 2018 there proved to be an increased number of shipments which caused a nationwide driver shortage; so if you’re thinking about a career change, look into what it takes to become a professional truck driver.

The future of trucking is bound to change as more and more improvements are made to the way we transport good across the country, so keep up with our blog for more useful and interesting info about the trucking industry.