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The Early Days of the Truck Industry

Posted on by VS Midwest Carriers

The trucking industry has been paving the roads for economic boosts throughout the 20th century. Everywhere you look on the highways, you’ll see long haul trucks transporting our materials, foods and freight from one location to another. Today, we take advantage the trucking industry in terms of roads, vehicles and the people who deliver our every needs to us.

Here’s a look at how the trucking industry got its start.

Let’s start by going to the days of the early 1900’s. Back to the days before highways, where roads only had two-lanes and they were rarely paved, especially outside of a town or city. In the 1900s, trucks were essentially motorized wagons that resembled horse-drawn carriages. They didn’t even begin to overtake horse-drawn wagons as the primary method of transporting shipments until the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Although trucks were becoming relevant, the true tractor-trailer combinations didn’t exist until the fifth-wheel became common in the early 1920s.

1880 – 1900

In 1893, two bicycle mechanics built the first gasoline-powered motor wagon in Massachusetts. However, progressions for the truck industry were slow since the railroads were the prime shippers. Horses and wagons were used for everything else. Because of this, railroad companies would take advantage of their monopoly by charging high prices and sidestepping liability for lost damage.

To prevent this from happening, the Federal Government began to regulate transportation companies in 1887. This was to ensure railroads would charge fair freight rates. The regulation also helped protect transportation companies from unfair competition.

1910 – 1930

As motorized trucks became more useful and available, they began Containerization became a popular method of transporting freight because it reduced shipping costs, handling of the freight and it cut losses due to damage or theft. However, rails were still less expensive when it came to time.

During the 1920s trucks began evolving to a more sophisticated tractor-trailer style that we see today. Once the fifth wheel was introduced, hook ups for cabs helped move the trucking industry. Cabs were enclosed, making them more like trucks today rather than motorized wagons. Trucks and motorized vehicles also swapped their solid rubber tires for air-filled tires, which improved their speeds.

The first World Ware was really what started the decline of the railroads. When the U.S. entered the war, transporting munitions and other supplies became a logistical nightmare because of the lack of rail capacity. Trucks were able to fill the capacity gap and help supply chains and ass the demand grew; they became more common when handling short and long hauls.

1930 – 1940

People began taking advantage of the truck industry growth that accompanied WWI. Entrepreneurs threw their hats into the ring and set out for the trucking life. Unfortunately, numerous trucking companies were forced out of businesses during the Great Depression.

More problems began rising for the truck industry at the time of the Great Depression. While the ICC heavily regulated railroads, trucking companies were not at all. Trucking companies, especially those that provided long-haul services, were taking business away from rail companies. The rail industry wouldn’t stand for it and in 1935; Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act, which authorized the ICC to regulate interstate trucking as well.

The ICC began controlling everything from rates to operating for interstate commerce. They were strict about allowing new carriers into the industry and expanding the operating territory for existing carriers.

To expand the tight grip of the ICC, the Virginia state legislature developed intrastate regulations and the State Corporation Commission began requiring certificates of authority. This meant carriers had to apply for rights to haul freight anywhere, giving them more of an option as well as guidelines.

The truck industry has grown since the 1940s. There are more rules and regulations that keep the roads safer for everyone. At V&S Midwest, we pride ourselves in safety and keeping our truck drivers happy. To learn more about the truck industry, follow our blog.

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