Trucking Industry FAQs

What is the history of the trucking industry?

Trucks have been around a long time. Truck drivers? Just as long. Trucks came just after automobiles, or “horseless carriages,” arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s. And we aren’t just talking about your run-of-the-mill pickup truck. Semi-trucks have been around just as long.

The Winton Motor Carriage Company of Cleveland, Ohio, founded in 1896, pioneered the trucking industry. In 1898, the company built its first truck capable of carrying cargo in an attached trailer (i.e., semi-trucks). Why? It had to deliver all those horseless carriages!

While it may not have been an 18-wheeler, the Winton vehicle served its purpose. Soon, other companies wanted to buy Winton’s truck-trailer combinations.

The basics of the Winton design are still seen on highways today. Flatbed trailers, or “removable goosenecks” (RGN), are based on the principles Winton Motor Company put to work over 120 years ago. And the design has carried over to the travel industry, where vehicles haul camping trailers using the same principle.

If Winton gave birth to the semi-truck, August Charles Fruehauf, a Detroit blacksmith, took it to a new level in 1914. Fruehauf’s first design allowed a vehicle to haul a boat. Soon, he designed new models for uses like hauling lumber. In 1918, the Freuhauf trailer company was born. It remains among the leading trailer manufacturers over a century later.

At the same time Freuhauf was building his company, World War I raged in Europe. The United States sent 2 million troops to fight overseas, and a good number of semi-trucks based on Winton and Freuhauf designs traveled with them. With wartime improvements including inflatable tires to drive over rugged terrain, the semi-truck/trailers proved their worth.

The military found that two trucks stood out among others — those built by White and Mack. The performance of the trucks on the battlefield led to their widespread adoption at war’s end. By 1920, a million semi-trucks had been manufactured, and many millions more followed over the next 20 years.

The military found that two trucks stood out among others — those built by White and Mack. The performance of the trucks on the battlefield led to their widespread adoption at war’s end. By 1920, a million semi-trucks had been manufactured, and many millions more followed over the next 20 years.

With the outbreak of World War II, Mack became the workhorse vehicle of the U.S. military. Leaders ordered and deployed over 35,000 Mack trucks to assist in the war effort. On the home front, semi-trucks first began filling the gaps in freight hauling left by railroads that no longer served some cities and towns. Eventually, semi-trucks overtook rail delivery and today haul about 70% of all freight in the U.S.

White and Mack — trucks that led allied forces to victory in both World Wars — still exist as subsidiaries of parent companies including Volvo, Navistar, Daimler, and PACCAR. Other trucks well known to anyone driving the nation’s highways — Kenworth, Peterbilt, International, DAF and others — represent the Class 8 trucks most often associated with the term “semi-trucks” today.

Of the 36 million trucks registered for commercial use in the U.S. today, 3.7 million are in the Class 8 category. These trucks haul the over 6 million trailers in the country to destinations within the U.S., Canada and Mexico. And they all have one thing in common — a truck driver behind the wheel.

What is the economic impact of the trucking industry in the United States?

Movement of freight is one of the largest and most important industries in the country. And with 70% of freight being moved by trucks, the trucking industry plays the most vital role in delivering the everyday products consumers purchase to warehouses and retailers, as well as the specialty products other industries use. You’d be hard pressed to name an industry that doesn’t rely on trucking. Whether using truck carriers or an in-house fleet, hauling freight by truck is the most convenient meet the needs of the U.S. economy.

Trucking is involved, either exclusively or in the transportation chain, in 80% of freight deliveries totaling nearly 11.5 billion tons of cargo annually. Revenues from these delivers are nearly $800 billion each year.

The number of commercial trucks registered in the U.S. is 36 million, and 3.7 million are Class 8 vehicles — the “18-wheelers” most people associate with trucking. Still, that leaves over 32 million trucks of various classes in commercial use. Commercial trucks make up over 13% of all registered vehicles, and their owners pay over $43 billion in highway-user taxes each year. These trucks consume over 50 billion gallons of fuel while traveling almost 300 billions miles on North America’s highways.

Regardless of the Class truck or freight being hauled, all 36 million commercial trucks are similar. Without a truck driver, they don’t travel anywhere.

What types of companies hire truck drivers?

When it comes to hiring truck drivers, it not just a matter of looking at carriers within the trucking industry itself. National, state, and local government agencies all use trucks and need drivers to operate them. The military trains and uses truck drivers on a constant basis. Independent companies that own their own fleets of trucks hire drivers. In fact, some statistics have shown that over one-half of males with high school diplomas who did not attend college work in the trucking industry in some fashion. As far as the commercial carriers typically thought of as the backbone of the trucking industry, the numbers change almost daily. In 2019, 1.7 million carriers, big and small, operated in the U.S.

When it comes to driving the “Big Rigs” or over-the-road (OTR) trucks most people consider the “top of the trucking industry,” what types of jobs are available?

In general, the trucking industry is divided into two segments: “for-hire” carriers and “private” carriers. As of May, 2019, nearly 900,000 for-hire carriers were in business in the U.S., with 800,000 private carriers. Small carriers (those operating fewer than 20 trucks) made up the overwhelming majority of all carriers (97%), and even smaller carriers (fewer than 6 trucks) comprised 91% of those in business. In total, for-hire and private carriers (not including self-employed or owner-operators) accounted for 7.8 million jobs, almost half of them (3.5 million) working as drivers.

Looking at for-hire versus company carriers, one will find many similarities as well as many differences.

For-hire carriers make up 51% of the carriers operating in the U.S. “For-hire” means the carriers are companies specializing in hauling freight. Examples you might be familiar with include: J.B. Hunt, C.R. England, ABF, Schneider, Knight Transportation, Roadway, and many more.
Private carriers make up 44% of U.S. motor carriers. “Private” typically refers to a carrier operated by a company to support its primary goals other than freight delivery. These companies are usually large and have enough need in the area of hauling freight that it is more cost-effective to own a fleet of trucks than to use for-hire carriers. When considering private carriers, think about companies like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Sears, Sysco, and U.S. Foods. A private carrier relatively new to the country is Amazon Prime. Not considered a “private” carrier per se, the U.S. Postal Service delivers mail and freight using a combination of for-hire and Postal Service-owned tractor-trailers.

What types of industries does the trucking industry serve?

For-hire carriers operate trucks and haul trailers serving industries as follows:

– Transportation & Public Utilities (42.8%);
– Wholesale & Retail Trade (26%);
– Services (12.8%);
– Manufacturing (12.2%);
– Construction (3%);
– Agriculture (1.2%);
– Mining (0.7%).

Private carriers, by definition, operate in the same industries as the companies owning them.

Where do motor freight carriers operate?

In terms of the United States, freight carriers operate wherever a need exists for their services. In general, this includes every region, state, and city in the country, as well as many small towns and rural areas. It would be difficult to find a single spot in the United States freight carriers do not at least serve indirectly.

For-hire carriers are in the business of hauling freight. They will travel essentially anywhere a company will pay them to travel, at least within reason. Of course, the more difficult a delivery point is to access, the more a carrier will charge. Private carriers generally serve designated routes leading to specific business locations or distribution centers.

Carriers are spread relatively evenly throughout the country. Nearly 45% of carriers are based in the southern tier of states (16 states total, including California), with 55% across the norther tier of states (34 states total). When it comes to truck registrations by state, California and Texas lead the way, with Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania following. Aside from Florida, the other states listed register less than 50% of trucks registered in California or Texas.