The Evolution of the Semi-Truck

by Pride Transport | Jan 27, 2020


Much like man, the modern semi-truck crawled from the primordial ooze. For trucks, it was out of the ooze of the burgeoning automobile industry. And when you think of the automobile you naturally think of …

Alexander Winton.

Oh, were you thinking of Henry Ford? Well, that’s a good thought but remember, Ford wasn’t most famous for manufacturing cars, he was famous for creating the assembly line. A way to produce cars, and other products, quicker and more efficiently.

No, our story begins with Alexander Winton in Cleveland, Ohio, where he invented the semi-truck in 1898 and sold his first manufactured semi-truck in 1899.


Start your engines

Alexander Winton founded the Winton Bicycle Company in Cleveland in 1891. But even as he was very successful in making bicycles, he always had his eye on the “self-propelled vehicle” craze. He unveiled his first “motor-wagon” to the press in 1896. 

Winton went on to establish the Winton Motor Carriage Company in 1897 and in 1898, it became the first American company to sell an automobile to the general public.

The car was the Winton Six, the most powerful and technologically advanced vehicle of its time. It was the first car to cross America coast to coast. The car and all Winton cars to follow were hand-manufactured and elegant.

Winton sold his first 22 manufactured cars in 1898 and he got himself a bit of a problem. He needed a way to deliver the new cars to buyers. If he had someone drive the cars, there would be wear and tear on the vehicle so, he couldn’t do that. This problem was the first step in the evolution of the semi-truck.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Most people assume Glen, the guy who runs the quick-mart on the corner of Maple and Vine, is the father but, necessity isn’t talking. In this case, Winton found a way to get his cars to the buyers by inventing the automobile hauler. 

The hauler was a two-wheeled cart pulled by a specially adapted automobile with the engine in the back. The cart connected to the car and it was capable of hauling one car. He then started manufacturing the hauler for his own use and for other car companies.

It’s interesting to note that during this time, Henry Ford actually interviewed for a job with Winton but was rejected.


Now Detroit

In Detroit, 1914, August Charles Fruehauf was busy running his blacksmith business when he was approached by a man who wanted a way to transport his very expensive boat to the lake. Fruehauf created a carriage that would attach to a Ford and haul the boat. He officially called his invention a semi-trailer.

HIs boat carrying semi-trailer was a huge hit and, being a smart businessman, he immediately started to manufacture his semi-trailer for other purposes, such as hauling lumber. In 1918, he incorporated the Fruehauf Trailer Company which is still a leading maker of semi-trucks to this day.


Take an idea and make it better

John C. Endebrock was the one who took it further. With a background in building horse carriages, he used his experience to build what he called the “trailmobile”. This new invention was an iron chassis mounted on wheels and springs that could be attached to the back of a Ford Model T. The trailmobile, created in 1981, was specifically designed to be easy for a single operator to hook it to a car. Up to this point, it had taken three men to hook up any kind of trailer or car hauler.

The trailmobile brand still exists and thrives today.


More necessity, more Inventions

Then came George Cassens. George was a car salesman who was required to deliver the cars he sold to the buyers. Very much like Alexander Winton before him. George was very reliant on car haulers but, they just weren’t keeping up with his volume of sales. So, he devised a four-car auto trailer for $1,850 that was pulled behind a 2-ton Dodge truck.


Hey, Mack, you gotta truck?

When you wake up with a serious hangover and pour yourself the first cup of joe of the day and someone says: “how’re you feeling?” you’re most likely to respond: “ I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.” That’s because Mack truck drivers have been trained to run over people who are out drinking. No, no, that’s not true at all.

The reason we say that is because Mack has become eponymous for heavy-duty, sturdy, tough tucks. In fact, the evolution of the semi-truck drops us at the door of Mack.

Mack was manufacturing cars in 1900. It also developed and manufactured its own engines that were equipped with an automatic starter, making the hand-crank obsolete. Mack put those engines with the automatic starter into trucks and between 1929 and 1944, produced 2,601 semi or full trailers.

Mack was also responsible for many truck innovations that are still in use today including power brakes and the very first hook-and-ladder fire truck.


Listen to the trees

Not only did the Lorax listen to the trees, but the trucking industry did as well.

Another major player in the truck manufacturing business, Peterbilt, began selling its semi-trailers in 1939. These trailers were used extensively to haul logs from the forest to lumber mills.

T.A. Peterman found the standard method of transporting logs: the river or horse teams, to be lacking efficiency. So, he refurbished surplus army trucks and equipped them with trailers specifically to haul logs. His idea caught on and sent Peterbilt to the top of the truck manufacturing game.


100 years

It’s been over 100 years since Winton’s two-wheeled semi-trailer which was actually invented to haul a single car. Now, we have 18 wheel semi-trucks with three axels. We‘ve come a long way, to say the least.

Semi-trucks transport 700,000 tons of goods each year in the United States alone. These semis are driven by 3.7 million drivers representing more than 70% of all US freight delivery.



The semi-truck has seen quite an evolution in 100 years. Who knows what the next step is going to be. Maybe it’s flying trucks like we were promised so many years ago by sci-fi writers. Where’s my flying car, people?? But, no matter what the future truck looks like, we’re confident that a professional driver is going to be at the wheel.


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