Who Invented the Semi Truck?

by Nathalie Gosset

Alexander Winton invented the semi-truck in 1898 and sold his first manufactured semi-truck in 1899. This concept came in the midst of more than one hundred fifty patents of automobile and engine designs that he filed. This Scottish man started his career manufacturing bicycles in Cleveland and moved into the construction of “horseless carriages” in 1896. He sold his first manufactured car in 1898, and this led him to inventing the concept of the semi-truck to handle the delivery of his manufactured vehicles.

Context

Winton promoted his new Winton automobile by touring the country with the vehicle and challenging others to car races. This marketing strategy worked well and, by the end of 1898, Winton Motor Carriage Company had sold twenty-two automobiles, followed by one hundred the subsequent year. Not all customers lived in or around Cleveland, and the delivery of the vehicle posed a problem. How to bring the car to the client without burning mileage on the vehicle? He addressed this issue with a new concept that he called an automobile hauler that could carry the new vehicle on a trailer. In 1899, Winton Motor Carriage started manufacturing the hauler for its own use as well as other car manufacturers.

Invention

The concept used a modified short wheeled touring automobile with a cart attached to it. The platform sat on the top of the engine portion and rested on a pair of wheels on the other end. The platform could only hold one automobile. Before the cart was mounted onto the pulling car, the automobile to be delivered was wheeled onto the ramp of the cart and fastened to the platform. The edge of the platform resting on the ground was then elevated and attached to the top of the trunk of the pulling vehicle.

Expansion

Winton kept his mind on engine designs and did not pursue further the design of his first semi-truck. George Cassens took the vehicle hauling business to the next level in the 1920's. As a car salesman needing to deliver the cars that he sold, he relied on car haulers extensively. When in the early 1930's, manufacturers attempted to ship the new cars directly to the buyers, he realized that the shipment costs were prohibitive for the car manufacturers. He stepped in and offered to haul the cars from the manufacturing site to the car owners. He devised a $1,850 four-car auto trailer that was pulled with a two-ton Dodge truck.

Parallel Initiative

Credit needs to be extended to August Charles Fruehauf, a Detroit blacksmith, who built a carriage for a person who wanted to transport his boat in 1914 and officially called it a “semi-trailer.” He duplicated the carriage for additional usages such as hauling lumber. In 1918, he incorporated the Fruehauf Trailer Company.

Adaptation to the Model T

John C. Endebrock had experience in building horse carriages and used his wisdom in developing the “trailmobile,” an iron chassis mounted on wheels and springs that could be trailed behind a Ford Model T. This 1918 design was conceived so that it would be easy for a single operator to hook the trailer to the car. Earlier trailers required three men to hook up the chassis to the car.

Legacy

Over a century, the four-wheel design from Winton has evolved into an 18-wheeled articulated semi-truck with three axles. Today, semi trucks transport more than 670,000 tons of goods each year in the United States that are taken to destinations by 3.5 million truck drivers. This represents more than 70 percent of all U.S. freight delivery.

About the Author

Nathalie Gosset started writing for technical journals such as “Lightwave” in 1990. Awarded the 2009 IEEE Engineer of the Year and 2007 EMBS Career Achievement recognitions for her philanthropic outreach, she authored her first professional development book, “Hidden Jobs, How to Find Them!” in 2009. Gosset has a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, a Master in Telecom and a Master of Business Administration.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera american vintage truck image by Pierrette Guertin from Fotolia.com