How the pickup truck has evolved from the early 1900s to today

From a purely utilitarian purpose to a blend of style and substance, the noble pickup truck has come a long way over the last century. Pickups have gone from niche market to mass appeal, and from country to city, as manufacturers have adjusted to consumer needs and desires over the years.

The pickup’s predecessor

On October 1, 1896, a German engineer and industrial designer by the name of Gottlieb Daimler created what was known in production records as “Motorised goods vehicle, order no. 81, vehicle no. 42.” Let’s just say marketing wasn’t Gottleib’s thing. But his vehicle no. 42 was essentially the world’s first truck.

Equipped with a 4 horsepower, two-cylinder engine that was installed in the rear, the truck could, according to Daimler, carry a load of 3,300 lbs. The vehicle resembled a horse-drawn cart, with the driver’s seat housed in a coach-box positioned ahead of the front axle, out in the open air.

The Dodge brothers

Towards the end of World War I, in 1918, the Dodge brothers filled a request from the United States government for 20,000 half-ton chassis for various military uses. The resulting vehicles used by the American military better resembled the pickup trucks we’re used to seeing today.

Chevy’s not-quite complete pickup

While the Dodge brothers were skilled manufacturers, they lacked the capacity to supply the public’s demand for half-ton pickups. That’s where, also in 1918, Chevrolet stepped in and released the model 490 (which appropriately cost $490). Interestingly, Chevy sold consumers only the engine and chassis, with buyers expected to build a wooden cab and bed themselves. Buyers did have the option of purchasing a cab for the chassis for a cool $100.

Ford mixes things up

In 1925, Henry Ford decided to make some tweaks to the classic Model T by offering buyers the option of adding a truck bed to it. These modified Model Ts also featured open cabs in the back and became the first fully manufactured pickup trucks available for civilians to purchase. Building on the success of the modified Model T, Ford created the Model A pickup truck with an all-steel cab and roll-up windows in 1928.

Powering and sizing up

The 1930s saw the inception of the eight-cylinder engine, which nearly doubled the horsepower of pickups. When the Second World War broke out towards the end of the decade, vehicle production all but stopped as raw materials were diverted to the war effort.

Post-WWII trucks were made larger – larger cabs, larger windows, and higher seats – and were marketed more towards farmers as replacements for plough horses.

The move towards drivability

The 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw manufacturers focus on making the pickup easier to manoeuvre. Power steering and power brakes were included in pickups for the first time in the 1950s. The following two decades ushered in “lifestyle” pickups – models that were lower to the ground, capable of accommodating camper additions, and more fuel-efficient.

Modern advances

From the 1980s to the present day, we’ve seen the introduction and standardization of automatic transmissions, anti-lock brakes, automatic windows, and air conditioning. Those advancements seem downright ordinary nowadays, as pickups evolve further to include satellite radio, GPS systems, Wi-Fi, and of course, accessories like BACKRACK