Pickup trucks have been around for well over 100 hundred years. Before we get into the continuity and evolution of the pickup truck, I’d like to break down a few things. The basic style of a pickup truck has a modified truck cab and an open back. The open back or ‘bed’ makes it easy to load and haul objects to and fro. The name “pick up” was derived from its use as a vehicle to haul and transport heavy loads. The first popular pickup truck was the Ford Model T Runabout with a pickup body. This vehicle was factory produced by Henry Ford back in 1925.
The style of pickup trucks can vary greatly when considering make, model, purpose, and region. Over the years, as the pickup truck evolved, it was referred to as a half-ton truck. Early pickup trucks, mostly in the 1960s, could carry up to half a ton of freight in the bed and cab combined (1000 pounds). Today, trucks can carry much greater loads due to the evolution of technology.
Ever since they began to grow in popularity in 1925, pickup trucks have spread across the United States like wildfire. Listed below are 10 states with the most pickup trucks (listed from the greatest to least). The below figures were taken from the Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
- California 4,679,924 trucks
- Texas 4,133,212 trucks
- Florida 2,086,729 trucks
- Georgia 1,459,205 trucks
- Ohio 1,384,716 trucks
- Michigan 1,278,188 trucks
- Pennsylvania 1,236,430 trucks
- Illinois 1,135,143 trucks
- Alabama 1,050,333 trucks
- Louisiana 1,041,749 trucks
As you can see, California holds the largest concentration of pickup trucks in the country (surprisingly) at 24%, Texas holds the next largest concentration at 21%, and Florida follows up with 10%.
I know, I know. I said that the first popular pickup truck was manufactured in 1925. Notice that the keyword here is popular. There were a few non-popular models in existence before the 20s. In 1896, Gottlieb Daimler invented the first pickup truck that he marketed as a horseless wagon with 4 horsepower, 2 cylinder engine, and 1.1 L. Dubbed vehicle no. 42, it was advertised that the crude vehicle could carry up to 3300 pounds though many disagreed with this estimation.
Factories began producing pickup trucks. These included the Autocar, Reo, Auto Wagon, and King pickup truck styles.
Chevrolet soon jumped on the bandwagon and began producing truck models that looked akin to early cars with the rear body frame cut away. This particular model had a bit of a DIY (do it yourself) element to it because if you wanted to use it as a truck, you had to install your own bed.
1922 Ford Model T Pickup 2
The Japanese quickly followed suit with a truck of their own, the Model A.
Now that pickup trucks were becoming more popular, the Ford Motor Company began offering amenities with their Model T Runabout. This included allowing the customer the option to add a truck bed. During this time, the Model T Runabout with Pickup Body was mass produced. 3 years later, the innovative Model A pickup truck was sold in 1928. The Model A featured roll-up windows and an all steel cab.
Not to be left behind, the Chrysler Corporation manufactured the half-ton Dodge pickup truck, the first of its kind.
Factory produced pickup trucks from Chevrolet entered the markets.
Toyota entered the pickup truck manufacturing game with the model G1 pickup truck. It was during the 30s that everything changed. The automobiles of this era were designed so that they sat much lower to the ground. Due to this change, cars were no longer able to be converted into trucks by simply cutting away the back portion and adding a bed. Trucks would have to be manufactured as its own standalone vehicle. Following the devastation of WW2, manufacturers began building pickup trucks like madmen, increasing its popularity several fold.
The Pickup Truck: An American Icon
The late 1920s through the 1930s was the beginning of a new era for America. It was the beginning of a love affair with pickup trucks. It all began when Chrysler bought the Dodge Brothers Company in 1928. After the acquisition, Chrysler began building Fargo trucks from 1928 to 1930. One notable pickup truck built during that time was the Merchants Express pickup in 1929 (produced by Dodge). The Merchants Express had the power of a six-cylinder engine underneath its hood and a body that was aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Chevrolet soon manufactured a lightweight model. This new lightweightpickup truck came with an overhead valve six-cylinder engine, the first of its kind in 1929.
Ford stepped up to the plate with the newly manufactured Flathead V-8 pickup truck in 1932. As a direct counter to this, Dodge produced its own Flathead six-cylinder engine pickup truck in 1933. On a side note, 29,549 Model A pickup trucks were manufactured by the Ford Motor Company before stopping in 1932. The Model A was so popular that it’s considered, to this day, the most popular automobile (not just pickup truck) to be mass-produced during the 1900s.
When we think back to the 1940s, thoughts of WW2 come to mind. However, when it comes to the pickup truck, the end of that chaotic decade was a time for the auto manufacturers to kick their factories into full gear and start cranking out newer and more efficient automobiles. In 1949 Dodge, Chevrolet, and Ford began launching their post-war lines. The Dodge B-Series, widely believed to have taken the lead in front of the rest of the pack due to its never before seen cab design, took the market by storm with a medley of new features. These features included the aforementioned unique cab design, a windshield that was both wider and higher, and rear quarter cab windows that helped to lessen blind spots.
Chevrolet manufactured its own light duty pickup truck in the late 1940s. The design-heavy pickup truck was Chevrolet’s vision of a fresh post-war look. The 1947 Chevrolet ¾ ton Model ER pickup truck had never before been seen in the market. It had the power of an overhead valve six-cylinder Chevy engine as well as an entirely different experience for the buyer: chrome from the window trim to the grille and rear quarter windows. It was as durable as it was physically unique. Ford stepped forward with the F-Series pickup truck, the first generation. The F-Series was produced from 1948 to 1952.
Commercial and personal trucking was authorized for use on the Interstate Highway System in 1956. During this decade, many Americans moved away from the cities and began moving into suburbs. Jobs, however, stayed in the cities. This prompted a new hunger for automobiles to transport people to and fro to work. This included a voracious hunger for pickup trucks. The big three, Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet rose as the leaders in the market to meet this new demand.
New pickup truck models began to pump into the marketplace with unique body styles and new features. For example, in 1955 the first contemporary V-8 engine with overhead valves was introduced in a Chevy pickup truck. This improved the horsepower for traveling at high rates of speed. The International Harvester in 1957 introduced the first crew cabin. Initially, the Harvester came with three doors, but a fourth was added in 1961.
The 60s started with a bang with GMC manufacturing a new pickup truck design that included jet pod grilles, a full-width hood, and a pinched-waist body crease. Dodge followed suit with a crew cab in 1963 (factory manufactured). Ford jumped into the fray by manufacturing its own crew cab pickup truck in 1965. The Japanese, however, changed the entire industry when Toyota and Datsun introduced a new concept: the compact pickup truck. As if all of the fierce innovation and competition wasn’t enough, the 60s also introduced the improvement of pickup truck transmissions. This new development meant that pickup trucks could now travel further distances at a higher rate of speed while carrying heavier freight. The industry had been flipped onto its axis and changed the state of how people viewed personal hauling all across the United States.
One would think it would be quite difficult to one up the advances of the 60s, but Dodge delivered with the “Lifestyle” pickup trucks. The 70s was a time where many Americans were eager to travel. This new need was met with new family friendly vehicles such as SUVs, station wagons, and pickup trucks. In 1972 the Dodge D200 Camper Special came with a slide on camper body. While Dodge catered to those looking to travel, GMC focused on the individuals looking to haul heavy loads such as large equipment. GMC launched its first crew cab and began an ambitious campaign to update all of its previous models. Every pickup truck in the GMC line was updated with padded interiors.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to you at this point that the innovation only continued on an upward trend. The concept of the extended cab pickup truck was given birth when Chevrolet introduced the S-Series extended model in 1983. In 1988, GMC offered its own full sized extended cab pickup truck. As this was happening, the big three – Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet – had to deal with countering foreign competition by releasing compact trucks to the American market. By the end of the decade, GMC introduced a new series, more aerodynamic and streamlined. This new series was launched in 1987. This new revolutionary line changed the face of the industry in much the same way the Japanese launch of the compact pickup truck did. It set the bar for future GMC pickup truck designs.
The 90s could be considered one of Ford’s best decades. The 90s was the decade that the Ford F-series truly took off, despite the fact that it had been in production since 1948. During the beginning of the 90s, the F-series was in its eighth generation, which was manufactured from 1987 to 1991. The ninth generation ran from 1992 to 1996. During the 10th generation (1997) the Ford F-150 received a completely new redesign, its first since 1980. The redesign update came with progressive aerodynamics, a much roomier interior, and better savings on fuel. Not to be forgotten during this decade, Dodge introduced the Ram pickup truck AKA the T-300 in 1993. The Dodge T-300 competed with the Ford F-Series with its large cabin and added storage space.
GMC launched the Sierra HD that sported Duramax diesel engines. GMC wasn’t satisfied with just adding raw power to its trucks. The company also expanded into developing luxury pickup trucks. In 2007, GMC launched the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali pickup truck. The Denali had stunning features: a spacious crew cab, a massive grille made of chrome, and a bumper cover. The Denali was marketed to the individuals interested in driving in style.
Ford continued its F-Series with the launch of the twelfth generation. The latest generation of F-150s ran from 2009 to 2014. Updates include a downsized cab to two doors (as opposed to four), the removal of the manual gearbox, and the addition of heavy duty headlamps and grilles.
The Future of the pickup truck
The pickup truck has evolved many times over the past 100 plus years. You may be wondering what the future has in store for the pickup truck industry. Recently Tesla, the world famous electric car manufacturer, has stated that they will be manufacturing their own line of electric-powered pickup trucks. With the truck of the future not so far off in the future, pickup truck enthusiasts have much to be excited about. The pickup truck has long been an American icon and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.