A Look At The Early History Of An American Icon
The history of the American pickup truck is similar to other icons that people have created over the years. The first ones did not roll off the assembly line in an orderly fashion and rushed off to dealer showrooms.
Instead they were crudely assembled out of the frames of the first automobiles and then slowly developed features of their own that were added as manufacturing and vehicle technology advanced.
Many people believe that the history of the American pickup truck may have started with the General Motors Company. In 1908 the automaker bought the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company and the Reliance Motor Car Company, which were combined and became the GM Truck Company. The newly formed group created some of the first commercial one-cylinder engine trucks. To show off just how reliable their vehicles were, the company had a driver motor a GMC truck from Seattle to New York City. The trip took 30 days in a time where there were few paved roads anywhere in the vast stretches of open terrain. But the road system was improved enough that a GMC truck made it from New York City to San Francisco in less than a week of non-stop driving in 1926.
When discussing the history of the American pickup truck it may be noted that it includes another icon, the Model T. These were Henry Ford’s first mass produced vehicles that were as reliable as a four wheel vehicle could be in the early 1900’s. The World War I was looming and America needed its army to be mobile to haul equipment to the front lines and to evacuate the wounded. Enterprising mechanics realized that if they stripped away the frame they could add on a flat bed and sides and create much more space for cargo in the back. Many of these first models were made by small companies that would take the newly assembled cars at the end of the assembly line and convert them to taxis, ambulances and fire trucks. In 1918 Ford released its first fully assembled Model T Pick-up. The cost was $281 for a Model T chassis with a truck bed.
It was not until after World War II in 1948 that Ford made a major new development in rewriting the history of the American pickup truck. In that year the automaker rolled the first F-series vehicles off the assembly line. The vehicles ranged from F-1 to F-8 models. The major differences between each class were the size of the engine, the length of the truck bed and the chassis specifications. The trucks ranged in size from a regular pickup to the larger ones that were as big as school buses. This one line of vehicles proved to be so popular that every few years the automaker came out with a new line of F-series that incorporated the latest advances in technology.
Not to be outdone Chevrolet started making its mark on the history of American pickup truck with its first model sometime around 1916. There are indications that the company had made earlier versions of the Four Ninety models but there were only for use on the factory property. The vehicles sold for less than $600. They were made out of the same frames as the cars and only had sheet metal on the front. It was up to the buyers to add any custom features that they wanted. The automaker also sold a second style vehicle called the Chevrolet Model T. It is believed the “T” stood for truck. This vehicle had a longer frame and a more powerful engine that could reach speeds up to 25MPH, The price tag was a little more than $1,200.
Chevrolet decided in 1930 to assemble all of its trucks on its own assembly lines and the company bought out the Martin-Parry body company. The automaker then started mass producing pickup trucks with the beds already attached to the frame in the factory. Over the next few years pickups became big business as other automakers started rolling out their own models. Besides GM, Chevy and Ford other companies such as International Harvester, REO, Studebaker and Mack were making half-ton pickups to meet a growing demand for reliable transportation.
The Dodge brothers earned their place in the history of the American pickup truck after spending years making a name for themselves supplying parts to Ford and then making their own line of cars. The brothers aimed for a different segment of buyers than most of the other carmakers. They added extra features to their vehicles, which also drove up the price. After World War I ended the brothers decided to use the frame of an ambulance they had made during the conflict and convert the back end for commercial use. It could carry a half-ton of cargo and was called the Screenside Commercial Car. Equipped with a four cylinder engine with 35 horsepower and had a three speed transmission. To expand their line of vehicles the brothers signed a contract in 1921 with the Graham Brothers Company to manufacture larger trucks.
In 1928 the history of the American pickup truck took yet another turn when Chrysler purchased the Dodge Brothers Company. Chrysler then started reinventing the pickup truck based on designs by its own employees and engineers. The newly formed company also decided to offer three lines of vehicles under the names of Fargo, Desoto and Plymouth. The automaker believed that each line of trucks could compete against the brand names used by other truck makers. But less than a year later Chrysler decided to drop the Fargo Truck line name here in the U.S. because of slow sales.
The history of the American pickup truck is one that started with mechanics who wanted to turn those early cars into vehicles that could handle the demands of a growing country. It did not take long for the early automakers to realize that there was a strong demand for the vehicles. If history is any indication, the demand is still strong today in every corner of the country.