What The Truck?
Amazing Facts About the U.S. Trucking Industry
No matter whether you know them as semis, 18-wheelers or big rigs, tractor-trailers are the heart of the U.S. transportation industry. However, many people do not realize the important roles these vehicles and their drivers play in our everyday lives. Without semitrucks, very few of us would get the goods we need for simple survival, let alone any of the items we buy for fun and pleasure.
Tractor-Trailer Quick Facts
Semitrucks fill the highways and interstates transporting goods from manufacturing centers and distributors to wholesalers and retailers. Approximately 1.9 million semis currently operate in the United States, and one-third of them are registered in California, Florida and Texas. These trucks cover a total of 140 billion miles of road each year, which is enough to go around the Earth 562,264 times.
While 1.9 million seems to be quite a lot of trucks, there are many more trailers registered than there are tractors. Over 5.6 million trailers, nearly three times the number of tractors, are registered in the U.S. The common name for these trucks, semis, actually comes from the trailer. This term refers to the fact that trailers do not have front wheels and can only operate when attached to a tractor.
In the U.S., the maximum weight of a semitruck carrying a full load is 80,000 pounds, but these are featherweights when compared to the trucks driven in other countries. For example, Australia allows certain tractors to pull up to four loaded trailers, known as road trains, with a total weight of 300,000 pounds.
To put the volume of goods transported by semitrucks into perspective, consider that 68 percent of all materials and products in the U.S. are hauled by tractor-trailers. When you take the total weight of all these goods and divide it equally among the population, the result is 60,000 pounds per person per year that are carried by big rigs.
Several companies design and manufacture tractor-trailers, but over one-third of semis sold each year are Freightliner trucks. Volvo, which also owns Mack, and Paccar, which includes Peterbilt and Kenworth brands, are also popular manufacturers.
A Brief History of Semitrucks
Alexander Winton, a prominent bicycle manufacturer, began producing cars in 1896, and only two years later, he invented semitrucks to deliver his cars to buyers. In 1899, Winton recognized that other car manufacturers could benefit from his trucks, and he began marketing them as automobile haulers. August Charles Fruehauf, a Detroit blacksmith, redesigned the automobile hauler to carry boats, and he named his modified version the semitrailer.
As industry began to progress in the early 20th century, the usefulness of semitrailers became apparent, and Mack introduced a more durable model in 1916. In the 1930s and '40s, several innovations made semitrucks faster, stronger and more reliable than ever before, including the diesel engine, aluminum cabs, sleeper cabs and ventilation systems.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, manufacturers such as Peterbilt, Kenworth, Freightliner and Mack continued to release improved designs, and today, the focus for new models is on improved alloys, electronics and personal customization.