Introduction: The History of Trucking
Trucking is the backbone of America. Truck drivers are our nation’s heroes, delivering goods and services to all parts of this country. But what do you know about truck driving? This post will take a look at the history of trucking in America, from its inception in the 1890s to today!
The 1900s: The Dawn of American Trucking:
Before the turn of the century, most freight was moved by train or horse-drawn carriage. But with the emergence of gas powered engines, trucking began to take hold in urban areas for deliveries and light freight hauling.
The tractor trailer was invented by Alexander Winton of the Winton Motor Carriage Company in 1897. Winton’s truck was able to carry a full load at once, unlike other trucks of the era which required multiple trips with each trip carrying less cargo than before.
In 1899, a group of trucking entrepreneurs established the Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL). ODFL was one of the first successful trucking enterprises and dominated the freight industry in Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania.
In 1905 Dallas businessman P Knight got a contract to haul coal from mines near Snyder to power plants in East Texas. He used three trucks with trailers that he had bought for $3000 each ($60K/hr) but only made two round trips because they were not durable enough.
By 1910 there were already over 5000 trucks on American roads and one in 15 American freight companies were using gas-powered trucks for deliveries and by 1920 they dominated urban deliveries in major cities due to their increased capacity and efficiency over horse drawn vehicles.
1910s: The US In WW1
In 1912, a trucking entrepreneur by the name of Peterbilt founded his namesake company to make and sell heavy duty trucks. He used all-steel construction, and the company still makes trucks today.
In 1913, government regulations began to appear, the first state weight limits for trucks in the US were published.
In 1915, a trucking firm in Chicago called Red Star Line was founded to provide transportation from New York to points west including San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Trucking was a key to winning World War I for America as it allowed for faster supply of troops in France than by train from the US. During World War I American factories produced more than 350,000 trucks to help the allies.
In 1918, an estimated 15 million tons of freight was transported by truck in America and up through 1937 this number remained at about that level or went higher.
The Truckers’ Union formed shortly after the First World War as drivers protested against pay cuts while fuel prices skyrocketed. In 1919 there were strikes in all major cities and truckers had to use force to keep freight moving.
In 1919, the National Transcontinental Motor Truck Company was founded with their headquarters in St Paul, Minnesota.
he 1920s: The Golden Age of Trucking
The first recorded load of goods shipped by truck across America from California to New York City occurred on this day in 1920 when a pickup truck drove 400 miles from Los Angeles to New York this was enabled by the expansion of paved roads across the country.
In 1921, the American Truckers Association was formed and in 1922 they lobbied for an oversize load law that would increase truck weights up to 12 tons on roads where cars are restricted to 20-tons.
In 1921, the American Truckers Association was formed and in 1922 they lobbied for an oversize load law that would increase truck weights up to 12 tons on roads where cars are restricted to 20-tons.
In 1922 Mexico’s first truck made its appearance back home after being introduced at an American trade show in Chicago. This truck would become one of two that were imported into Mexico during this time period.
In 1923, JB White Motor Company (now known as Navistar International) unveiled a prototype for a heavy duty truck with the first diesel engine, which would be called “Truck A”. Also in 1923, GM bought out Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL) to form General Motors Truck Company which became known simply as “GM” or “Chevrolet Trucks.” With their purchase they also acquired ODFL’s subsidiary, Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company, which became GMC Truck & Bus Division.
In 1924 the International Harvester (IH) company had a tractor with an attached semi-tractor so that they could haul heavier loads. They also unveiled their first diesel powered truck at the 1924 World’s Fair in New York.
In 1925, Mack Trucks was founded in Pennsylvania. In 1926, they were bought by General Motors and became GMC Truck & Bus Division. They are still making trucks today.
In 1927, there were more than 100,000 trucks on American roads and they moved nearly 40% of all industrial output plus some agricultural products.
In 1928, the Truckers’ Union joined forces with the American Federation of Labor to form which would become known as the AFL-CIO in 1955.
When the Great Depression hit the United States in 1929, demand for trucks decreased.
The 1930s: The Depression Era
The 1930s saw the worst economic depression in American history cause terrible conditions for truckers. In 1930 GM unveiled their new “Diesel” truck and in 1931 they sold about 800 units of the diesel-powered vehicle.
In 1932 the first diesel semi-tractor from IH was launched with an 18-ton hauling capacity. In 1933 Packard introduced its “Diesel” built by GM’s Chevrolet division with a 16 horsepower engine that could haul up to 14 tons of cargo over 100 miles on one tank of fuel at highway speeds. This vehicle exceeded all expectations for performance so it remained in production until 1935 when they sold about 800 units.
In 1935, congress passed the Motor Carrier Act which gave truckers the right to carry goods across state lines without paying any fees or tariffs.
By 1937 there were nearly 500,000 trucks operating nationwide and they carried two billion tonnage (of freight) annually – about 40% of total industrial output plus some agricultural products. This was also the year of the first national truck roadeo.
The 1940s: World War II and Postwar America
In 1942, General Motors launched its first post-WWII civilian truck line with a range of vehicles to suit customers at all levels and prices. The company had been building military equipment since 1941 when U.S forces entered WWII but now – as part of FDR’s New Deal – it was time to work on supplying American housewives with affordable cars that were plentiful after wartime rationing ended two years earlier (in 1946).
In 1943, Mack Trucks modified one of his prewar models to include an auxiliary power unit that could run an air-conditioning system, a radio, or even the engine itself.
In 1944 when General Motors introduced its new truck line in 1942, it was met with approval from truckers who knew they would be retiring their “old” trucks after WWII ended and needed something to replace them on America’s highways while still being cheap enough for many families.
Additionally in 1944 Toyota Motor Company established Hino Heavy Industry Co., Ltd which became a manufacturer of heavy duty diesel engines primarily used by Japanese truck manufacturers including Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corporation (MFTBC) who manufactures Kenworth as well as Isuzu Trucks; Nissan Diesel Motor Company Limited (NDMC) – also known as UD Trucks and formerly known as Nissan Diesel Motor Co., Ltd – which manufactures UD Trucks.I
n 1944 , the United States and Great Britain sent Lend-Lease trucks to their Russian allies, albeit with solid rubber tires instead of balloon or pneumatic for the Russian climate.
In 1945, Mack Trucks unveiled their new “Super Duty” series of trucks that was designed to be more powerful than anything else on the market.
The 1950s: The Postwar Boom
The 1950s marked a post-WWII boom in trucking as the economy recovered and Americans began traveling more.
In 1952, Mack Trucks unveiled their new “Golden Jubilee” series of trucks that was designed to commemorate 50 years since founding – there were three models: Golden Jubilee, Golden Jubilee Tractor Trailer (the world’s first 18 wheeler), and Super Duty F-Series Truck with an optional cab-over sleeper suite for drivers who wanted overnight accommodations on long hauls.
In 1953, Chevrolet introduced its “Super Power” line which were heavy duty versions of their existing light duty trucks but had much heavier frames and engines than before. GMC followed suit by introducing its own version called the GMT Series trucks which could be found in a variety of sizes up to 72″.
In 1954, Ford Motor Company introduced its “Super Job” line which was an all-new truck series that featured a powerful engine and the industry’s first four speed automatic transmission.
In 1956, General Motors debuted their Chevrolet C/K Series with optional diesel engines for those who wanted more power or fuel efficiency than what gasoline could provide – it would be GM’s first full size pickup line with many variations on offer; these trucks were built until 2001 when they switched to GMT900 models instead.
The Federal Aid Highway Act became law on June 29th, 1956 and Congress authorized the Interstate Highway System that would be built under its authority.
The 1960s: The King of America’s Roads
The 1960s was a decade of significant change in trucking and the best way to build on that momentum going into the next decade.
In 1961, General Motors debuted their “Forward Look” line which were built for both long haul distances or more localized work with an engine range from 200-300 horsepower; these trucks were also available as tractors with trailers if drivers wanted to run heavy equipment.
In 1962, the United States saw their first fuel crisis when a standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the Cuban Missile Crisis led to shortages across America – trucking companies responded with higher prices but sales dropped significantly as many consumers were unwilling or unable to pay them even though they needed goods shipped in; this situation lasted until the following year when Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for a U.S. promise not to invade, thus ending the crisis and allowing fuel prices to fall once again as well.
In 1963, Mack Trucks unveiled their new “Centennial” series of trucks that was designed with power at its core and would last until 1973.
The 1970s: The Great Oil Crisis
The 1970s was a decade of hardship and change for trucking but it also marked the height of its importance in America.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon created the United States Department of Energy where he appointed William E. Simon to be Secretary; this department would oversee all energy production from oil and gas drilling to nuclear power plants as well as regulate fuel prices which had sky rocketed due to the 1973 Oil Crisis – gasoline shortages ensued across America following OPEC’s decision not to sell their oil outside their region (they were trying to raise global awareness on how dependent they were on Middle Eastern nations) while Congress imposed price controls that led many retailers unable in turn able or willing enough refused those limits. This crisis lasted until 1979 when an agreement was finally struck between the two sides to raise prices.
In 1973, OPEC and other oil-producing nations raised their prices by 70% following a war in Israel which led to increased tensions with Egypt; trucking companies saw demand for shipping goods drop as consumers began hoarding not only fuel but also food items that would rot if they couldn’t be shipped quickly enough while others continued on as usual – this situation lasted until 1974 when yet another agreement was made at an OAPEC conference where all parties agreed to stabilize pricing at $39 per barrel of crude or else find themselves under sanctions from the United States.
Around this time, trucking achieved national attention and trucker culture was born – truckers often found themselves exalted by their peers and invoked admiration from others in both the public eye and popular culture with movies such as Convoy, Vanishing Point, and Smokey and the Bandit all championing truckers as their heroes. Trucking also infiltrated national radio with major hits like “Convoy” and “C.W. McCall” becoming an iconic symbol of trucking culture that would last well into the 1980s. Trucking country was here to stay!
In 1975, Congress authorized a 40 cents per gallon increase in diesel fuel taxes to help pay for new roads – but this only helped ease demand as it was still difficult to pump gas without ending up in a long line.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter created the Department of Energy where he appointed James Schlesinger to be Secretary – this department would oversee fuel prices with an expressed focus on conservation following a new energy crisis that had erupted in 1973 due to supply shortages from Middle Eastern.
The 1980s: A New Generation of Truckers
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan changed the name of the Department of Energy to The United States Department of Energy and Natural Resources which would oversee all domestic energy production as well as serve in foreign policy on behalf of oil interests; this marked an era where trucking would come to be seen as a dying profession by many.
In 1982, the Department of Transportation would establish its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which was established following years of lobbying from truck and bus companies who didn’t want their regulations overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1983, the Department of Transportation would publish a new set of regulations for truck drivers that raised minimum age requirements from 18 to 21 and increased on-the-job training; meanwhile, diesel prices had peaked at $42 per barrel which led cement trucks in particular to find themselves hard pressed when it came to recovering costs.
Truck drivers participated in a major nationwide strike in 1984 after Congress refused to raise the truck weight limit from 80,000 pounds; this measure had been proposed by President Reagan who wanted to make America more self-sufficient and cut transportation costs.
In 1985, deregulation began under the leadership of Ronald Reagan which was seen as a way for companies to compete on an even playing field in a free-market economy; trucking companies began to consolidate and merge with one another, or exit the industry altogether, as it became apparent that deregulation was making many drivers’ jobs obsolete.
In 1986, President Reagan signed an executive order mandating federal agencies use only American-made vehicles – this would help ensure proper fuel efficiency standards were met and that America would be less reliant on foreign products.
In 1987, President Reagan withdrew the United States from the International Monetary Fund which had been established in 1944 with a focus on regulating exchange rates; this withdrawal coincided with an increase of trucking drivers’ incomes as competition between companies increased while demand remained relatively stable – but it also led to deregulation which would have a major impact on the trucking industry.
In 1988, President Reagan signed an Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act which was designed to reduce fuel consumption and regulate gas prices; this had mixed success as the act led to increases in transportation costs for many goods that relied heavily on trucks but also resulted in reduced demand from drivers who could no longer afford to work.
In 1989, the Department of Transportation would publish a new regulation that raised truck drivers’ minimum age requirements from 21 back up to 24 – this was done in an effort to maintain driver standards as many companies were now able to hire inexperienced workers who couldn’t afford higher education prices or training programs for fear they wouldn’t be able find work elsewhere.
1990s: A Time of Consolidation and Change
In 1990, President George H. W Bush would sign an Executive Order establishing the Presidential Commission on Infrastructure Protection which had a focus on infrastructure protection and rebuilding following years of neglect from Reagan’s administration; this commission led to new safety standards for truck drivers that were enforced in 1993 – but also came with a heavy cost as truckers faced increased taxes and fees, not to mention the prospect of fewer jobs.
In 1991, President George H. W Bush signed an Executive Order that eliminated a cap on truck weight limits for any vehicle hauling food or agricultural products; this measure was designed to strengthen America’s self-sufficiency when it came to providing for its citizens following years under Reagan in which many industries had been neglected – but by now deregulation had become such a hot topic that even conservatives were starting to question it as they too saw how unemployment rates among drivers were skyrocketing.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton would sign the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico which aimed at eliminating tariffs between countries while simultaneously making sure trade could continue across borders without any impediments; this agreement would have a significant impact on trucking as it made global trade easier while simultaneously raising the question of whether transportation should be privatized or left to public hands.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order that aimed at regulating the trucking industry following years during which deregulation had led to increased costs and unemployment rates among drivers – but many saw this order as merely glossing over larger issues in need of immediate attention.
2000s: The End of America’s Truck Driving Era
In 2000, George W Bush was elected president after campaigning largely on platform promises related to job creation for those who were struggling financially due to Reagan-era policies like deregulating industries; throughout his presidency he would work with Congress members to privatize the trucking industry and allow companies to hire drivers as independent contractors – but this led to significant criticism from unions who argued that these actions would lead to a race-to-the bottom when it came to wages, benefits, and legal protections among employees.
In 2008, President George W Bush signed an Executive Order which aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions; while many saw this order positively because of how it helped reduce pollution in America’s air by promoting the use of alternate fuels like electric vehicles or biofuels – others criticized its impact on jobs for those working in industries where fuel consumption was high (like trucking).
2010s: A Time of Transition?
Fuel prices were rising rapidly following years during which they had been low, and truckers were being hit hard by the impact of deregulation on their wages, benefits, and protections; meanwhile many saw this as a time to begin transitioning away from oil consumption in favor of electric cars or biofuels.
In 2012, President Barack Obama would sign an Executive Order which aimed at creating more comprehensive standards for driver hours – but these measures failed to satisfy those who wanted greater regulation among drivers following decades during which they had been left unprotected.
By 2013 there was bipartisan support in Congress for legislation that sought to reduce long-haul driving (forcing companies like UPS and FedEx to subcontract with smaller regional carriers) while also giving states incentives for maintaining minimum levels of investment when it came to infrastructure protection – but this effort failed to gain traction as it was opposed by trucking industry lobbyists who argued that the regulations were too onerous.
In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order which aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions; while many saw this order positively because of how it helped reduce pollution in America’s air by promoting the use of alternate fuels like electric vehicles or biofuels – others criticized its impact on jobs for those working in industries where fuel consumption was high (like trucking).
By 2015 there seemed to be a growing sense among politicians and members of the public alike that long-haul driving would need to become regulated if companies wanted their drivers’ hours limited so they could avoid accidents due to fatigue.
Many in the transportation industry especially big box stores such as Walmart, who announced that they would end a program which allowed employees with certain criminal backgrounds to drive company trucks if they were determined not be risky enough threats following background checks.
In 2017, truck drivers demonstrated across the country in order to demand better conditions – including seeking work-hour limits and protesting low wages.
In 2018, as pressure grew from politicians and members of the public alike, trucking industry representatives finally agreed to establish work-hour limits for drivers – though critics argued that these standards fell short.
2020s: Today And Beyond
Today, the trucking industry is continuing to face challenges due to fuel prices rising rapidly following years during which they had been low – with many seeing this as a time to begin transitioning away from oil consumption in favor of electric cars or biofuels.
Future discussions are sure to focus on how new technology and innovations will impact truckers’ working conditions; while some see autonomous vehicles as presenting an opportunity for efficiency gains because they have no need for rest breaks and can refuel without stopping (which could also help reduce emissions if trucks stop idling at gas stations) – others worry that these vehicles would leave drivers who cannot afford the transition out of work.
The history of trucking in America is a fascinating one, and it has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. From its inception as an alternative to rail travel in the 1890s all the way up until today’s modern highways, trucks have become essential to our nation’s economy. As truck drivers are heroes that deliver goods and services across this country every day, we should be grateful for their tireless service! Which classic model of truck is your favorite? Share below!