History of Semi Trucks
Semi trucks, also known as semi-trailer trucks or tractor-trailer rigs, transport more than 70 percent of the goods in the United States today. An estimated 13 billion tons of goods, valued at $255.5 billion, are transported by 1.9 million semi trucks. The use of the semi only became feasible with the advent of paved roads in the second decade of the 20th century and later with the interstate highway system.
Today's semi truck in North America is typically an 18-wheeled articulated truck that includes the truck and trailer. These semi tractors consist of three axles with the front wheels to steer the vehicle, the rear-wheel-drive axle and the double wheels, or dualies, at the rear, according to Amtrex.net.
Big rig semis were not built for comfort but for utility. Early trucks riding on solid rubber wheels with mechanical brake systems could only travel short distances at low speeds, often over unpaved roads. Technological advances in developing the pneumatic tire and hydraulic brakes helped develop the semi to become a more useful workhorse, according to CoachBuilt.com
The semi truck population exploded in 1917, due to improved road systems. In 1916, the Federal Aid Road Act was passed and five years later the Federal Highway Act created a 3.2-million-mile national road system. The passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 further increased the number of semis on the road, according to TruckInfo.net and the Federal Highway Administration.
Mack Trucks was an early innovator of heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Founded in 1900 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the company developed its own engines that featured an automatic starter, eliminating the hand-crank. Mack soon developed a reputation or building tough trucks and the name became synonymous with durability, according to MackTrucks.com
Logging Industry Impact
The logging industry had an impact on the development of the semi truck. Peterbilt, based in Tacoma, Washington, began sales to the public in 1939. Peterbilt was used extensively to transport logging materials from the forests to the lumber mills. T.A. Peterman was particularly frustrated with the standard method of transporting logs by river or horse teams and sought to rebuild surplus Army trucks equipped with trailers specifically designed to haul logs, according to Peterbilt.com.
Today, about 4 percent of semi truck accident deaths are due to driver fatigue. Federal laws limit the number of hours a driver is on the road, but major truck builders, such as Peterbilt, have developed sleeper cabs over 40 years to make life on the road easier. Sleeper cabs are offered in many different sizes with some large enough to accommodate husband-wife driving teams, according to TruckInfo.net.
Semi trucks seem to be everywhere today. They are seen making wide turns on the streets or slowing down traffic on the freeways. The roadways are so saturated with semi trucks that they have begun to be taken for granted. This has not always been the case. Through the relatively brief history of semi trucks, you can see that the role they have played in the creation of modern day commerce is quite impressive an very much indispensable.
The Trucking Story
o It seems like semi trucks, also know as 18-wheelers or tractor trailers, have been around forever; however, just before the first world war, semi trucks were almost non-existent. During the late 1800s and early 20th century, the railways dominated freight travel leaving little room for incipient trucking businesses. However, with the introduction of the internal combustion engine in the mid 20th century, increased the chances of the semi truck becoming a feasible form of transportation.
o The history of the semi truck is not only significant to the trucking industry but also had wide reaching effects on all modes of transportation. Slowly, as the semi truck gained presence, it was seen that this vehicle could reach more locations, cost less, and was more conducive for commerce. Although the tractor trailer was up to this new demand, the roadways were not up to par. Thus, a lot of the forms of suspension, steering, and breaking that we enjoy today were created during this time to accommodate these conditions.
The Boom and Decline
o After proving itself as a reliable and efficient form of transportation, semi trucks experienced a boom right after the first world war, enjoying some of the benefits of a thriving economy. However, as with most businesses, many trucking companies shut their doors during the Depression. Those companies that were able to survive the Depression faced another hardship under the name of The Motor Carrier Act. This act was a set of regulations placed on the trucking industry limiting hours one could drive, the type of freight that could be carried, and the range of a truck's route. This was an attempt by the government to boost the railroad industry, in which it had much invested, by eliminating the competition of the semi truck.
o With improvements in the roadways such as road conditions and expanding infrastructure, the semi truck could travel farther and reach more locations. There were also advancements made on the internal combustion engine introducing progressive transmissions and gear drives.Thus, the efficiency and range of the semi truck grew greatly allowing its transportation cost undercut those of the railroad. Today in the 21st century, semi trucks are in high demand and are just about everywhere you turn.
o In 1980, Jimmy Carter signed a new remodeled Motor Carrier Act which deregulated the trucking industry. This removed over forty-five years of government inflation and restrictions on the trucking industry. Now, there are protections for trucking companies, and restrictions against outside bureaus, such as rate bureaus, from implementing further restrictions on this now highly prized industry