As we approach National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, we decided to turn back time and see just how far the industry has come and how much we have to truly appreciate. Since the start of the pandemic, truck drivers have taken on a lot of additional weight, both figuratively and literally, to transport goods across the country in these challenging times. Times have certainly changed. But it wasn’t easy in the early days of trucking, either.
While we express our gratitude in both color and black & white, travel back with us for a moment as we look at trucking in the 1950s versus today. And for a full visual display of insights in the trucking industry, check out our infographic Appreciation for Truckers Through the Years: 1950s vs Today.
Trucking Roads and Routes in the 1950s
In 1950, the average truck driver would only make it an average of 60 or less miles a day with multiple “calamities” potentially happening on a daily basis. Imagine mud swallowing your truck axle, ruts shaking your vehicle apart, and even trucks crashing through bridges and into rivers. If your truck did make it all in one piece to its destination, it was likely traveling somewhere close by, as trucks in the early 1950s were primarily moving local goods around like paint, tractor tires and furniture.
It wasn’t until the construction of the Interstate Highway System that roads across the country were more stable and reliable. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 paved the way for the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways, which allowed more state-to-state transportation. There weren’t nearly as many highways and routes across the U.S. as there are today, with only a handful of major routes between cities. Check out this old map of routes to see where a driver 70 years ago might be headed, and compare that to one of today’s routes maps. We’ve definitely come a long way.
Today, the average truck driver can drive anywhere from 300 miles to upwards of 600 miles in a day. Truckers haul everything from gasoline to gallons of milk, medical and auto supplies, livestock, liquids and more. Some of truckers’ favorite routes are to and from Florida or traversing west to California.
Drivers and their Trucks in the 1950s
The average truck driver in the 1950s was male, middle-aged, and white. Today, trucking is much more diverse. Among younger truckers under age 35, more of them are women, Hispanic and more educated than their older counterparts age 55 and older. Getting places was certainly less costly than it is today. The average price of gasoline was 27 cents per gallon in the 50s. Today, diesel fuel is $3.32 a gallon.
Trucking was just beginning to integrate into pop culture in the 50s. There aren’t many people who actually remember the 1950’s TV show Cannonball, where Mike Malone and Jerry Austin hauled freight for C&A Transport Company Ltd. in their GMC Model 950 COE. People are more likely to have heard a remake of the original country song “Truck Drivin’ Man,” which made its debut in 1954 and was written and recorded by Terry Fell. The song tells a simple story of a day in the life of a truck driver and has since been covered by dozens of musicians, including Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
One of the most popular passenger trucks in 1950 was simply known as “Charlie,” the Chevrolet pickup. It was a time of innovation for semi-trucks, with Freightliner’s introduction of the first overhead sleeper cab in 1953 and Kenworth’s release of the first of their cabovers in 1955. Both truck manufacturers are still going strong, and Freightliner has the best selling semi-truck in America today.
Truck decorating has been one way truckers and fleets make their vehicles a little piece of home, often with individual personality as well as those featuring company promotion. At home and especially abroad, truck decorating has flourished to become quite a work of art in its own right.
In the 1950s, truck decorating was nothing like it is today. The beer industry was one of the first to use trucks as external billboards. One of the most famous early examples of exterior truck decorating were Volvo’s L34 trucks, which were used for the introduction of Coca-Cola soft drink products into Sweden in 1953. At the time, it was unusual for Coca-Cola to actively put imagery on the trucks for spreading their product message, with an ad message on top of the special superstructure as well as on big posters on the rear of the trucks.
Today’s trucks feature everything from holiday themes to patriotic artwork. Internationally, it’s even more popular for truckers to personalize their exteriors, featuring details like mosaics, animals and people as well as intricately designed elements.
Tires and Tire Inflation – Then and Now
The 1950s led to more inventions in the trucking industry with the introduction of the radial tire. With a radial tire, the cords and carcass plies are vertically arranged to the driving direction, making a more uniform contact on the road for a safer and more fuel-efficient ride. Radial tires are still the standard today for passenger cars. Fleets today have a smorgasbord of tire options, from widebase tires to low rolling resistance tires.
Keeping tires properly inflated has always been a feat in the trucking industry. Central tire inflation systems were introduced in the 1940s and primarily used on military trucks to maintain pressure on tires. But it wasn’t until Aperia Technologies created the Halo Tire Inflator in 2010 that truckers had a way for tires to truly self-inflate. Today, we still have the most innovative tire inflation technology in the market.
As we reflect on the trucking industry in the 1950s versus today, it’s clear to us that truck drivers have weathered tremendous changes over the years.
We appreciate all truck drivers for your resilience and flexibility and are grateful for the significant progress you have led over the years, which has enabled so many other industries to also evolve. We thank you every day, and especially today. Happy Truck Driver Appreciation Week!
For more then and now insights in the trucking industry, check out our infographic Appreciation for Truckers Through the Years: 1950s vs Today.