There are a number of reasons why the trucking industry took off in the United States. The large size of the country, a well-developed highway system, and a relatively even distribution of large cities all contributed to the rapid growth of truck transport beginning in the early 20th century.
In 2006, more than 10 billion short tons of freight were transported by truck in the US, more material than all other methods of transport combined. To understand how truck transport has become so important, you need to understand a little of its history.
Trucking prior to WWI
The year 1910 saw a number of technological advancements that were of great benefit to the trucking industry, including the invention of the internal combustion engine and the tractor/semi-trailer combination. Previously, the vast majority of shipping and transport was carried out by train. When trucking began to gain popularity, however, it gained it very rapidly. By 1914, there were nearly 100,000 trucks on US roads.
Trucking during WWI
The need for reliable shipping and transport increased greatly during the war years. Factories sprung up all across the country to provide troops stationed overseas with weapons, vehicles, and other necessities. Getting a steady stream of supplies to all these factories became a top priority. It is worth noting, also, that perhaps the most famous American truck manufacturer, Mack Trucks, emerged during this period.
Trucking under Roosevelt
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had perhaps more influence on the modern trucking industry than any other US leader. As part of his New Deal series of reforms, Roosevelt ordered each industry to create a “code of fair competition”. This led to the development of the American Trucking Association, as well as the universal adoption of a code of conduct for truckers.
In the early 1940s, Roosevelt was also a key force behind the development of an Interstate Highway system. This opened the door for truck transport, allowing drivers to transport goods quicker, more efficiently, and with a higher standard of safety for everyone sharing the roads.
Trucking in the mid-20th century
The 1970s was one of the biggest decades for truck transport in the US. It saw the rise of “trucker culture”, a movement which romanticized truck drivers as a kind of modern day cowboy. Trucking leaked into popular culture in the form of CB radios, popular songs and movies, and fashions such as plaid shirts and trucker hats.
Trucking in the modern age
Big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target keep the trucking industry alive today. Truck transport helps these stores keep their overhead costs low, and the stores in turn keep truckers busy with a demand for a steady supply of new merchandise.