The pickup truck has been an American icon for decades, a symbol of hard work and high style. Since the first one was manufactured by Dodge in 1918, pickup trucks have changed and developed to suit the needs of the Americans who love them. The history of the pickup truck is essentially the history of America for the last century, and the two go hand in hand.
War and Peace
The first pickup truck was built for the U.S. Army during WWI. Dodge supplied this truck for the war effort. Chevy and Ford soon followed suit, and within a few years, all three automakers offered a lightweight pickup with a 4 cylinder engine that produced less than 40 horsepower.
The pickup truck grew in size and power during the following decades, but production of them was halted altogether with the onset of WWII. There wasn’t enough access to materials or labor to produce automobiles, and pickup trucks were put on the back burner until after the war. By the time production halted in the 40s, pickup trucks had grown to a top engine size of 8 cylinders, with Chevy boasting an 85 hp, ¾ ton version.
Farming and the Outdoors
With room to carry a payload and a passenger, pickup trucks were a perfect fit for farmers across the country. They soon became indispensable for those who worked the land, and remain an icon of cowboy culture even today. Texas is still the state that has the highest pickup sales in the country.
It wasn’t just farmers that found a solution in the pickup truck, either. Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds began finding use for the open bed, high sides, and roomy cab. Jeeps and the F-Series pickups from Ford gained huge popularity during the 40s as vehicles that could get any job done outdoors. This reputation has continued on, with the F-150 holding a steady, decades-long spot as the top-selling vehicle in the country.
A Changing Economy
Peaks and valleys in the economy have changed the face of the pickup truck over the years as well. Its design got bigger and more powerful, all the way up until the fuel crisis of the 1970s. During this time, smaller, more efficient pickups were all of a sudden in demand, giving manufacturers like Mazda and Toyota a foothold in the market. New fuel technology helped with gas guzzling problems, though, and it wasn’t long before the pickup started growing in size again.
Today, pickup trucks are bigger, and more luxurious than ever. Foreign car makers have responded to American’s wishes for these big boys of the road by offering full size versions of their own, but the American automakers still reign supreme when it comes to pickup sales.