The History of America’s Prime Mover the Trucking Industry

Today, 70% of all goods in the US are carried by truck. The military value of trucks was first realized during World War 1. These are just two facts in the history of the American trucking industry.

The First 18 Wheeler

You are perusing the classifieds when you see a listing for aused freightliner trucks for sale. Those Freightliner’s earliest ancestor was born in 1896. The founder of The Winton Motor Carriage Company Alexander Winton needed a more efficient way to deliver his cars. Winton came up with a rear engine tractor. He also devised a trailer to hold the cars. His idea was three inventions in one. The semi truck and trailer, the 18 wheeler, and the car carrier.

The Rise of Trucking

The earliest trucks were chain driven. Chain drive did not deliver even consistent power to the wheels. Improvements to the internal combustion engine and transmissions in the early twentieth century made hauling freight with trucks more practical. Kenworth was still offering chain drive models into the 1950s. An article found at Wikipedia credits the increased number of paved roads in the 1930s and the creation of the interstate highway system with the rise of the trucking industry. Nearly 100,000 trucks were on American roads in 1914. That same year the proliferation of trucks led to the first legislation governing the trucking industry.

Early Trucking Regulations

The first speed limit imposed on trucks was 15 miles an hour. The early trucks had iron or solid rubber tires that played havoc on roads constructed of gravel and earth. To minimize the damage, weight limits were enacted. Depending on the state weight limits ranged from 18,000 to 28,000 pounds. These laws made the birth of trucking a difficult delivery.

Trucking And The New Deal

As part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the government required each industry to draft a “Code of Fair Competition”. The cartage industry’s code was drafted by what would become the American Trucking Associations. The government approved the trucking industry’s code in 1934. Compliant truckers were identified by a Blue Eagle license plate on their rig. The Motor Carrier Act replaced the trucking Code of Fair Competition in 1935. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was created under the New Deal. The Roosevelt administration would also impose the first regulations governing how long a trucker could drive before taking a mandatory rest.

The Interstate Highway System and Knights of the Highway Become Folk Heroes

Built between the 1950s and 60s the IHS made it possible for trucks to move larger loads faster. The greatest accomplishment of Eisenhower’s presidency an Interstate Highway System was first considered during the Roosevelt years. The idea was scrapped because of World War 2. The 1970s would see “gear jammers” enter the pantheon of American folk heroes. Thanks to popular songs like “Convoy” and movies like “Smokey and the Bandit” which Popular Mechanics reports earned over $100 million.