How Commercial Trucking Changed the World
09/30/2013 — Scott Frederick
The following guest blog post is being published compliments of Steve Updike Vice President / Principal at Updike Distribution Logistics, LLC, a Phoenix, Arizona-based distribution company.
The commercial trucking industry revolutionized the transportation of products when it arrived on the scene. Before trucks were used for transport, America's goods were shipped via railroads. However, trucks would soon prove to be faster and more efficient.
Advancements in technology
The combustion engine was invented in the mid-1800s, making trucking a viable alternative to the railroads. Solitary trucker-owners eked out a living, before even the invention of closed containers to protect goods. Roads were cobblestone and tires were solid rubber, making the journey a precarious one.
Economic prosperity in the 1920s, along with advancements in wheel technology, brought the first real boom in trucking. The advent of covered containers on trucks also helped to protect goods during transit and expanded possibilities for the nascent industry. Soon, however, the Depression put many growing companies out of business and essentially paused the industry until the economy rebounded after World War II.
Diesel engines expanded opportunity
Through the 1950s and 60s, diesel engines came into use, making longer journeys possible. Other technological advancements, such as multiple axles that allowed trucks to carry heavier weights, increased the trucking industry's capability to meet rising demands for consumer goods.
New laws spurred commercial trucking growth
In 1956, the federal government authorized an interstate highway system, which would make long-haul trucking faster and more cost effective than other methods of distribution. The development of the interstate highway system coincided with the rapid growth of suburbs, making truck transportation even more vital because railroads stopped mostly in major cities.
Market complexity prompted innovation
Over time, as trucking emerged as the most common method of transporting merchandise, trucking companies became larger and more complex. Third party logistics (3PL) providers would ultimately work with companies to navigate those complexities, helping businesses find the most efficient ways to distribute products.
Starting in the 1970s and 80s, the trend toward outsourcing to 3PLs gained speed. Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act in 1980, which deregulated the commercial trucking industry. This deregulation paved the way for companies to begin providing multiple services across transportation sectors.
Before 1980, for example, companies mostly provided trucking services, operated on the railroads or stored goods. Companies entering the market were required to prove their entry didn't financially harm an existing company. Deregulation removed the barriers to entry and companies began offering multiple services and expanding their reach into the supply chain.
As technology became even more advanced in the 1980s and 90s, possibilities for tracking products and analyzing routes became even more complicated. The technology side of 3PL became one of the industry's main selling points for companies looking to become more efficient in an increasingly competitive world.
Today, with the supply chain so complex and with so many variables, many companies turn to third party logistics providers to manage their supply chain distribution.
Trucking has come a long way since its inception, and continuing advances in technology, including fuel efficiency, mean that it will likely stay an important part of how goods get distributed across the nation.