The trucking industry in the United States has affected the political and economic history of the United States in the 20th century. Before the invention of automobiles, most freight was moved by train or horse-drawn vehicle.
Trucks were first used extensively by the military during World War I. With the increased construction of paved roads, trucking began to achieve significant foothold in the 1930s, and soon became subject to various government regulations (such as the hours of service). During the late 1950s and 1960s, trucking was accelerated by the construction of the Interstate Highway System, an extensive network of freeways linking major cities across the continent.
Trucking achieved national attention during the 1960s and 70s, when songs and movies about truck driving were major hits. Truck drivers participated in widespread strikes against the rising cost of fuel, during the energy crises of 1973 and 1979, and the industry was drastically deregulated by the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. Trucking has come to dominate the freight industry in the latter portion of the 20th Century, along with what are termed “big-box stores” such as Wal-Mart and Target.
1933 - The New Deal
In 1933, as a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, the National Recovery Administration requested that each industry create a “code of fair competition”. The American Highway Freight Association and the The Federated Trucking Associations of America met in the spring of 1933 to speak for the trucking association and begin discussing a code. By summer of 1933 the code of competition was completed and ready for approval. The two organizations had also merged to form the American Trucking Associations. The code was approved on February 10, 1934. On May 21, 1934 the first president of the ATA, Ted Rogers, became the first truck operator to sign the code. A special ``Blue Eagle`` license plate was created for truck operators to indicate compliance with the code.
1935- Motor Carrier Act
In 1935, congress passed the Motor Carrier Act, which replaced the code of competition and authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to regulate the trucking industry. Based on recommendations given by the now-abolished ICC, Congress enacted the first hours of service regulations in 1938, limiting the driving hours of truck and bus drivers.In 1941, the ICC reported that inconsistent weight limitations imposed by the states were a hindrance to effective interstate truck commerce.
1941 - Creation of interstates
Also in 1941, President Roosevelt appointed a special committee to explore the idea of a ``national inter-regional highway`` system, but the committee's progress was halted by the initiation of World War II. After the war was over, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 authorized the designation of what are now termed ``Interstate Highways``, but did not include a funding program to build the highways. Limited progress was made until President Dwight D. Eisenhower renewed interest in the plan in 1954. This began a long, bitter debate between various interests such as rail, truck, tire, oil, and farm groups, over who would pay for the new highways and how.
1974 - The Federal-Aid Highway Amendments
The Federal-Aid Highway Amendments of 1974 established a federal maximum gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg), and introduced a sliding scale of truck weight-to-length ratios based on the bridge formula, but did not establish a federal minimum weight limit. Consequently, six contiguous states in the Mississippi Valley (which came to be known as the “barrier states”) refused to increase their Interstate weight limits to 80,000 pounds, and the trucking industry effectively faced a barrier to efficient cross-country interstate commerce.
In 1976, the number one hit on the Billboard chart was ``Convoy,`` a novelty song by C.W. McCall about a convoy of truck drivers evading speed traps and toll booths across America. The song inspired the 1978 action film Convoy directed by Sam Peckinpah. After the film's release, thousands of independent truck drivers went on strike and participated in violent protests during the 1979 energy crisis (although similar strikes had occurred during the 1973 energy crisis).
1977 - Trucking in the Movies
The year 1977 saw the release of Smokey and the Bandit, the third-highest-grossing film of that year, beaten only by Star Wars Episode IV and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. During that same year, CB Bears saw its debut; a Saturday morning cartoon featuring mystery-solving bears who communicate by CB radio. By the start of the 80s the trucking phenomenon had waned, and with the rise of cellular phone technology, the CB radio was no longer popular with passenger vehicles (although truck drivers still use it today)
1980 - Deregulation
The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 partially deregulated the trucking industry, dramatically increasing the number of trucking companies in operation. The trucking workforce was drastically de-unionized, resulting in lower overall pay for drivers. Trucking had lost its spotlight in popular culture, and had become less intimate among drivers due to the increase of both motor carriers and truck drivers.However, deregulation increased the competition and productivity within the trucking industry as whole, and was beneficial to the American consumer (by reducing costs).The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 established a federal minimum for truck weight limits, which finally standardized truck size and weight limits across the country for traffic on the Interstate Highways (resolving the issue of the ``barrier states``).
Interior of a modern truck cab. By 2006 there were over 26 million trucks on America's roads, hauling over 10 billion short tons (9.1 billion long tons) of freight, and representing nearly 70% of the total volume of freight. Many automobile drivers are largely unfamiliar with large trucks and many accidents are the result of these drivers being unaware of an 18-wheeler's numerous and large blind spots. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that 70% of fatal automobile/tractor-trailer accidents were the result of ``unsafe actions of automobile drivers``.
In the 2009 book, Trucking country: The road to America's Wal-Mart economy, author Shane Hamilton explores the history of trucking and how developments in the trucking industry helped the so-called big-box stores (such as Wal-Mart or Target) dominate the retail sector of the U.S. economy.