Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fruehauf Trailer Company

I know of Fruehauf because they had a plant in Fort Wayne, IN across the Pontiac Parkway from the first house in which I lived.

August Fruehauf was a Detroit blacksmith. In 1914 a Mr. Sibly requested that he make a trailer for his boat so that he could pull it with his new Model T Ford. He liked it so well that he requested more trailers for use in his lumber business. Other people started requesting trailers, which Fruehauf called semi-trailers. Making semi-trailers provided a new business opportunity as his traditional business of making wagons and horseshoes for horses was drying up with the increasing success of the internal combustion engine.
This copy from AutoWeek
Fruehauf's first lumber-hauling semi-trailer, built for a Detroit lumber merchant.PHOTO BY FRUEHAUF HISTORICAL SOCIETY
He developed the slogan: "a horse can pull more than it can carry, so can a truck." The company had over a 2000 patents. Of note were the supporting jack in 1919, the fifth wheel in 1923, and the automatic trailer coupling in 1926. These made it possible for a truck driver to hitch and unhitch a trailer by himself. August prided himself in being customer driven and developed tank trailers, hydraulic dumper trailers, special trailers to transport race cars, missile carriers for the US government, etc. The Fruehauf Company patented the container that they developed in the mid-1950s for Malcom McLean, who was the pioneer in containerized transport and formed the Sea-Land company. Fruehauf grew by acquiring other companies and established a strong international presence. [Wikipedia, AutoWeek, Inventions

Harvey was the second son of August. He could not accept the ideas of his brother Roy, who was 15 years younger and had a college education. But the board sided with Roy. So Harvey sold all of his shares to a corporate raider in 1953. This led to a bitter proxy fight, which Roy finally won. But after his death in 1965, the executive officers mismanaged the company, and it was bought in bankruptcy by Wabash Trailers in 1997. [PowerStruggle]

Wabash National's plant is in Lafayette, IN. They probably kept just the patent portfolio, and maybe the sales channels, when they bought Fruehauf. I'm just glad that some trailers are still made in America.

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