What is the history of the semi-truck?
The first semi-truck was created over 100 years ago and after the industrial revolution, technological capabilities sky-rocketed which furthered the development of high-class, luxury semi-trucks. From the first semi-truck in 1897 to the first self-driving semi-truck in 2021 we take you on a journey of the past century to see how exactly we got here.
Alexander Winton, a Scottish-American engineer is widely known as the inventor of the semi-truck in 1898. He sold his first iteration of the semi-truck in 1899 from his business of, “horseless carriages” which he started in 1896.
Jack and Gus Mack, from Brooklyn, founded the company that would become Mack Trucks, a company that would set the standard for semi-trucks.
At the time, drivers would work 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week in dangerous conditions, oftentimes for about $2 per day (roughly $60 today). This lack of protection resulted in 1,700 drivers forming Team Drivers International Union. After a year, a few members left and formed the Teamsters National Union. By 1903, the two groups realized they are stronger in numbers and decided to merge the groups, forming the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The company that would be later known as Navistar has a history that actually dates back to 1832. The merger of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, Deering Harvester Company, and three smaller agricultural equipment firms resulted in the creation of International Harvest, and just 8 years after formed it would become the fourth largest company in the US.
Dan Tobin was elected as the union’s general president in 1907. In his early 30s, Tobin was a self-educated, Irish immigrant who was known for being a hard-headed and controversial leader. Due to his leadership skills, he was considered a visionary. He was eventually widely known as one of America’s most powerful men. He served for 45 years until 1952 after growing the organization from 40,000 members to an impressive 1.2 million members.
Charles W. Young Company of Philadelphia sent a five-man crew of Teamster drivers with three tons of olive oil soap to Petaluma, California. With the inefficient transportation systems in place at the time, the crew arrived at City Hall in San Francisco in 91 days, setting a new record for the trucking industry.
Maine was the first state to create a law that would prohibit trucks with a load heavier than 18,000 pounds from driving on their roads. This heavy load limit quickly became the standard in many states, and by 1980, the first weigh station bypass system was created to optimize the former scale system.
Prior to the 1920s, many trucks were using solid rubber tires and while pneumatic air-filled tires were around long before, it was not until the 1920s that they became standard. These tires allowed truck driving to go faster and smoother, it also reduced the risk of flat tires.
Harry Kent and Edgar Worthington created Kenworth in Seattle, Washington in 1923.
In one year the company sold 80 trucks, the following year production was so high that they were making up to two trucks per week.
The American Trucking Association is the largest trucking association in the nation. This would not have been possible if the American Highway Freight Association and the Federation Trucking Association of America did not merge in 1933.
After working in the logging industry, T.A. Peterman founded Peterbilt. Peterbilt semi-trucks hit the ground running with their dual-drive, lightweight Model 334. With its all-steel cab, Peterbilt would soon become one of the nation’s most recognizable companies.
When World War II first began, Teamster was one of the driving American forces in the military campaigns. Even the most technologically advanced German vehicles stood no chance against the American engines.125,000 highly skilled and experienced Teamster members were enlisted in all branches by 1942. The role these individuals played was to navigate the difficult, dangerous, and deadly war zones operating at high speeds, with no lights, and under heavy gunfire.
Leland James was met with a lot of resistance and skepticism when he first proposed to build semi-truck components with aluminum instead of steel, with determination and persistence, James was able to gather a team of engineers to build the first Freightliner truck.
Once the war was over, the economy skyrocketed. One industry that grew the most was the trucking industry. This is due to the newly discovered wealth in luxury goods that needed to be rationed during the war. Thanks to innovations like powerful diesel engines and refrigeration containers, it was only a matter of time before the industry took off. With this exponential growth, by 1945, the country went from 521,000 paved miles of road to 1.72 million miles.
During the war, Kenworth was heavily involved in producing military and commercial vehicles. By 1950 foreign sales accounted for 40% of sales.
The end of the 1940s was marked by the invention of the CB radio, one of the most utilized innovations in the trucking industry. This two-way communication device created a way for drivers to communicate with others in the industry. By the 1970s, virtually every truck driver in America would have a CB radio. Eventually, truckers came up with their own language to use with one another, known as CB Codes.
Priced at $15,871($192,490.86 today), the Eastern Freightliner made its debut. The B42 tractor was designed to haul a single semi-trailer. This is Freightliner’s first transcontinental cab-over sleeper, capable of hauling a 35-foot trailer.
By 1951, the once small group of voiceless drivers had grown so large that, as a group, they gained political, industrial, and labor power. All of this growth occurred under the leadership of Dan Tobin, who retired the following year.
The signature red oval was born in 1953 and still serves as the company’s logo.
Teamster was an organization that was part of some of the most inclusive labor organizations in America. Many unions prioritized white workers first, however, IBT welcomed all minorities no matter how controversial. When the civil rights movement began, IBT provided money, organizers, vehicles, and their political pull to the movement.
Volvo sent the first PV 444 to Long Beach, California. Two years after this, Volvo became the second-largest import brand in California. In 1974 the US became Volvo’s biggest market.
Governmental fear of an incoming nuclear attack resulted in Congress and President Eisenhower signing the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act. This bill approved $24.8 billion to construct 40,000 miles of highways all over the United States. This was the largest public works project in American history.
Jimmy Hoffa was elected president of IBT in 1957. One thing that makes Hoffa different than Tobin, is that Hoffa was very involved with organized crime. This connection continued until his disappearance in 1975. He was convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud in 1964 in two separate trials. He was imprisoned in 1967 and sentenced to 13 years. In mid-1971, he resigned as president of the union as part of an agreement with US President Richard Nixon. He is believed to have been murdered by the Mafia and was declared legally dead in 1982.
Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin creates the three-point safety belt for the series production of PV 544. Volvo waved its patent rights so that all manufacturers could benefit from the three-point safety belt.
International Harvest designs a compact “cab-over-engine” truck. This shorter cab allows for a longer trailer and more cargo. We don’t see these styles of trucks anymore and there’s a reason for that. The main reason for this cab-over style was to get around the truck length regulations in place. But, as time passed, the truck length limit increased, and the need for cab-over decreased. This led to manufacturers halting production.
A year before its 50th birthday, Kenworth hit an impressive five-digit mark in sales.
Freightliner introduces its flagship Powerliner, a truck with a massive 2,000-square-inch radiator and a 600-horsepower engine.
President Richard Nixon signed a bill that set a national 55 mph speed limit across all 50 states. The move was designed as a fuel-saving measure in the wake of an oil embargo, but it also helped auto fatalities to drop from 4.28 per million miles traveled in 1972 to 2.73 in 1983.
Following hard economic times, IH finalizes a deal to sell its agricultural division along with the name and logo. They soon rebranded as Navistar.
The Freightliner FLD Classic is introduced to the market for the owner-operator desiring a traditional-appearing truck.
Kenworth unveiled the T300, the company’s first medium-duty truck, the design was based on its T600.
After building bus chassis in 1919, Navistar acquired American Transportation Corporation. This resulted in Navistar becoming the first modern-day manufacturer of fully integrated school buses. In 2009, they rename the business “Integrated Coach Bus.”
The creation of FMCSA meant more safety regulations and even the creation of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis in 2010.
During the recession in 2008, the cost of diesel and other fuels went up. Crude oil stood at about $100 per barrel, diesel was $5 per gallon. Once the economy stabilized, these prices went down.
Bloomberg reports, that for years a shortage of drivers has been brewing. In 2018, the deficit grew from 10,000 to 60,800 and is expected to grow to 160,000 unfilled positions. Many companies are offering higher pay and better benefits. The biggest issue is that current drivers are retiring, leaving room for the younger generations to take their place. Here are some ways you can recruit younger truck drivers to your business.
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