The history of the trucking industry is one that is far too often overlooked. If you look around at the things that impact your everyday life you will quickly see that all of it at one point or another required the trucking industry to get where it needed to go. From the end products you use and consume getting from the factory to the shelves, the parts that it took to make those items being sourced from all over, to the machines that it took to make those part being shipped to the factory, and the list goes on and on. Without the trucking industry, the world could not operate efficiently in the manner that it does today.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

It is not hard to see that the means of shipping in this country has come a long way from where it is today. From the use of canoes and rafts with the early settlers, then horse-drawn wagons and trains, to the creation and evolution of the modern automobile. With the first truck coming on the scene in 1896 they rapidly gained popularity for needs of shipping. By the early 1900’s they were being commonly used but still had solid rubber tires, that may sound great to avoid flat tires, but actually, made the trip much slower and rougher. Not to mention speeds of trucks in that time we maxed out at 15mph so you were not getting anywhere quickly. This was changed after the pneumatic tires started to take in popularity. This new design of an air-filled tire instead of solid rubber was accredited to John Dunlop, but now is generally accepted that he actually “reinvented” it in the 1880s with Robert Thomson bringing for the original design in 1845. Dunlop however denies ever knowing of Thomson’s previous design of the tire. Either way, this move forward in innovation was a big step for speeding up shipping times as well as bringing on a smooth ride.

Great innovations were made around the time of World War I as trucks were needed and heavily relied upon by the military. This was not only for transporting supplies but they also engineered more reliable models that were fit for use in combat such as the Class-B Standardized Military Truck, also known as the “Liberty Truck”. It was also during this period that the pedal layout was standardized between manufactures so that troops could get in any truck and be able to drive it without issue. Trucks were seriously needed to get the troops supplies to the front lines. Bulk supplies were brought the majority of the way by rail but the trains were typically only able to get about seven miles from the front lines as anything closer to that would put them into the artillery range. Roy Chapin is credited for working with a military committee and experimenting with the pneumatic tires and other components to create the first long-distance shipment trucks that were also able to travel at higher speeds.

One thing that remained a caveat to the needs of the industry back in America was the lack of roads. Even with these innovations coming in trucks it was still not practical for business without a proper road system. We start to see approaching the 1930’s that the number of paved roads increased which made the use of trucks much easier on a widespread scale resulting in an increased freight being shipped in this manner. However, with the ability for trucks to get around more freely this also meant other vehicles could get around more freely as well. While this brought on continuous new regulations and precautions for overall safety as we continue to see today, the general outlook of that time period was refreshing. Even with delivery times on the table if a truck driver saw a stranded motorist on the side of the road it was in most company guidelines to pull over and assist. This was seen as part of the job as a “professional driver” at the time. Truck drivers were also equipped with supplies for assisting with these needs and in most cases were able to get the motorists up and running fairly quickly. Obviously, in today’s world, those efforts are simply not practical but still offers an interesting look back.

Throughout the ’50s and ’60s both regulations continued to grow but in another light so did freedoms, allowing the ability to drive faster. This, combined which the ever-expanding road system and interstate, brought the abilities within trucking to a whole new level. Now, like never before, Americans had easy access to practically anywhere they wanted to go.

Today, the trucking industry has grown to nearly an 800 billion industry that would be very hard for us to live without now. Modern society depends heavily on the various products brought to market like never before. This trend is not going anywhere any time soon, thus the need for goods and products to be shipped will continue to be of great importance. Taking a look back over the last 100 years and seeing the advancements made within this industry can give you a bleak insight to the breakthroughs that we will undoubtedly see in the coming years as this industry continues to grow.

(Photos Courtesy of: Library of Congress)