The History of the Semi-Truck Driving Industry

The History of the Semi-Truck Driving Industry

Apr 25th 2023

You may not realize it, but almost everything in your home has traveled in a semi-truck at some point. Semi-trucks deliver all of your online shopping packages, plus they transport goods to your favorite brick-and-mortar stores. Since semi-trucks are a modern invention, you might be wondering how people used to transport their goods. Discover the history of the semi-truck driving industry.

Before the 1800s

For most of human history, there were two ways to transport goods. For the long-distance part of the journey, water was the preferred method because it made transporting heavy things much easier. Putting it in terms of physics, transporters didn’t need to put in as much energy to move a pallet of goods down the river by boat as they would using a horse-drawn cart.

The main problem with using water transportation was that merchants had to work with the currents and wind patterns, instead of against them. That meant paying attention to the changing seasons and delaying shipments if the weather wasn’t cooperating. To move against the flow of air and water, each vessel needed a large crew of people rowing to provide enough energy.

The Silk Road

One of the most famous trade routes of all time was the Silk Road. Despite the name, it was really many different routes connecting Europe to places like Turkey, Egypt, China, and India. You could consider the Silk Road an early trucking route since it was a long-distance overland transportation path. The Silk Road was extremely important because it connected places that didn’t have any convenient water networks to link them.

The Invention of Trucks

Here’s a surprising fact about trucks: they were actually invented in the 1700s by a man named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. However, Cugnot’s design didn’t catch on, and it wasn’t until the 1800s that people started using steam-powered trucks for deliveries. These Victorian trucks had a pretty short range, so it was uncommon to see them outside of big cities. However, they were convenient for offloading goods from trains and ships and carrying them to other businesses.

WWI Era Trucks

By WWI, diesel trucks had replaced most steam-powered vehicles. These trucks were tougher and sturdier than their predecessors, and the militaries of many countries started using them to transport weapons and supplies. WWI itself necessitated the invention of many new technologies that helped make modern trucks possible. These inventions included the electric starter and engines with multiple cylinders that made trucks more powerful.

A few other inventions came about during this time, and they helped people switch to using trucks for transportation. One invention included electric lights on trucks to help drivers navigate roads in the dark. Being able to drive at night was a huge benefit since transporters could significantly reduce delivery times. People also started using trucks with air-filled tires, which boosted the speed at which trucks could travel.

Regulation in the 1930s

In 1887, the US government passed the Interstate Commerce Act, which regulated the then-dominant railroad industry. Essentially, railroad companies were banding together to keep the prices of goods high and prevent competition. In 1935, the government amended the law with the first Motor Carrier Act, which added trucks and bus lines to the list of industries the government could regulate. The new law helped pave the way for the modern highway system, and it kept trucker wages competitive.

Modern Trucking in the 1950s

By the middle of the twentieth century, delivery trucks were becoming more common, to the point that they challenged the popularity of railroads. The 1950s saw the beginning of Americans switching from trains to motorized vehicles, both for passenger motorists and industrial purposes. The creation of the Interstate Highway System pretty much sealed the deal, making cross-country delivery by truck more convenient than ever.

Refrigerated Trucks

Around this time, one of the most important developments in trucking was the invention of refrigerated trucks. They allowed farmers in Florida to ship oranges to people experiencing winter in Maine. Frozen fish could be shipped to landlocked states. Refrigerated trucks allowed people all over the world to expand their culinary horizons since they were no longer limited to seasonal and local foods.

Trucking in Popular Culture

In the 1960s and ’70s, many popular musicians wrote songs about life on the road as a trucker. These songs included “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley and “Truckin’” by The Grateful Dead, among many others. The songs popularized trucking as an American institution and helped inspire many people to take up trucking as a career. The image of truckers that many people have in their minds came from this era of music.

Deregulation in the 1980s

We can’t really talk about the history of the semi-truck driving industry without mentioning the impact of deregulation during the 1980s. In 1980, the government passed a second Motor Carrier Act. This one was designed to remove government regulations for the trucking industry. At the time, proponents argued that the new law would make it easier for trucking companies to expand their services and speed up deliveries; it also increased the number of non-union carriers.

Unfortunately, there were also some unintended consequences of the law. Since the act was passed, the trucking industry has become less focused on driver well-being. This has contributed to a lack of new drivers, and many who do sign up do not stay in the profession very long. To turn things around, trucking companies need to take more initiative in promoting the health and happiness of their drivers.

Modern Trucking Health Initiatives

One of the most recent inventions in the world of trucking is the pneumatic suspension system. This kind of suspension for truck cabin seats does a better job of absorbing road shocks and vibrations than the traditional mechanical suspension system. Seats with pneumatic suspension systems also tend to last longer. But when you combine pneumatic with mechanical suspension, you end up with a powerful air ride seat that can last drivers a long time.

When you spend all day driving, your muscles tense up to protect your body from road vibrations. Over time, this can lead to overly tense muscles and damaged nerve endings. Switching to an air ride seat can help protect your health, and you can find semi-truck air seats for sale at GRA-MAG. We specialize in aftermarket seats designed to protect drivers from road vibrations that can damage the nerves, spine, and muscles.

The History of the Semi-Truck Driving Industry