The History of the Forklift

Old Forklift

The History of the Forklift

Nowadays, forklifts are an integral asset for a wide range of industries including logistics, retail and construction. However, there was a time before the modern forklift existed. In this blog post we take a look at how the forklift developed over the 20th century to become what we know it as today.

1800’s – Back in the early days, before forklifts existed, people had to move things manually until towards the end of the 19th century, where there was a move towards mechanical solutions such as chains and winches. The first solution on wheels was the ‘Two-Wheel Hand Truck’ (we now know this as a sack barrow), which was then developed into the Four-Wheel Baggage Wagon.

1906/09 – At the start of the 20th century, storage batteries were used in existing wooden platform trucks for the first time. The first steel lift trucks were also being used in the paper industry.

1914/15 – The outbreak of WW1 accelerated development of the forklift truck. Machines with electric rising and lowering platforms were created to help with the war effort. Bomb handling cranes with power lifting mechanics were also developed. All this technology laid the way for forklifts, although at this point there were still no forks, therefore, loads could only be moved laterally a few inches.

1917 – Clark Material Handling Company, an axle manufacturer, made a vehicle they called the “Tructractor” to move goods around their factory. This is considered to be the first forklift. People visiting the factory asked Clark to make them their own Tructractor and the concept began to spread.

1919/1920 – Over the next couple of years truck designs were improved to be capable of lifting loads several feet off the ground, incorporating hydraulic powered lifting.

1923 – In this year Yale were first company to use lift trucks that had an elevated mast, extending upwards beyond the height of the truck. With this innovation, the forklift as we know it today was born.

1930 – Due to the introduction of standardised pallets, the start of the 1930’s saw increased production of forklifts. Since then, pallets and forklifts have worked hand in hand to keep logistics running smoothly worldwide.

1935/36 – In the mid-1930s, even more powerful forklift trucks were being created. The BT cushion tyre lift truck, for example, had a telescopic mast and a hoist cable that meant it could lift unprecedented amounts of weight. The Hyster truck was another notable lift truck developed around this time.

1939-45 – Once again, war sparked an increase in the production of fork trucks – this time, WW2. In 1941 the War Production Board even provided funds for the purchase of forklifts for the war effort. Forklifts now featured a rechargeable battery, meaning they could keep working all day long.

1950s – In the 50’s warehouses were being built much taller and as a result fork trucks were designed so they could lift loads even higher. Forklifts could now reach up to 50ft (15.2 metres) – a new record. Because forklifts were now working at such heights, more safety measures were required. Load backrests and operator cages were introduced and became standard safety features.

1980 – The 1980’s saw further safety developments being made to forklifts, including advanced load balancing technology to prevent tipping as well as operator safety restraints.

2000s – In the 21st century the environment became more of a concern in the manufacture of fork trucks. Environmental standards had to be adhered to which led to the development of lower emission forklifts which therefore made them safer for indoor use than previous equipment.

2010s -Throughout the last decade to the present day, forklifts have continued to be developed. Modern features include improved visibility, lower emissions, functions to prevent forklifts moving when the driver is not seated, telematics for vehicle usage analysis and much more.

In this fast moving industry, we are excited to see what the future holds for forklifts and what future developments will be seen over the next few decades.

If you would like to purchase or hire a forklift or any other material handling equipment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Multy Lift today on 01623 794 094 or complete an enquiry form.

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