Brief History of Truck Freight


Land transport is as old as civilization itself. It used to look very different for the majority of our existence leading up to the present day. The first concepts of organized road freight appeared in Africa and the Middle East with the use of pack animals to carry goods for trade over long distances. For the majority of our existence road freight has been dominated by animal-powered carts and wagons. Today, the majority of cargo volumes transported on land are done through truck freight and to a lesser extent railways. The two combined will continue to be a large part of all cargo that is being transported globally in the future - on both land, sea and air. EuroFreight are excited to be part of this continous journey of innovation and in shaping the future of shipping and truck freight.


Evolution of Land Transport

At first, we used our own bodies for land transport. Starting out with sticks over the shoulders and later improved to make use of baskets. Some of these primitive transporting techniques are still used today in various parts of Africa, South America, and Asia. Where a stick over the shoulder with ropes tied to baskets on the end provide an efficient mode of transportation over short distances.

We improved significantly through the domestication of large animals, which is believed to have occurred around 7000 BC. The main reason for domesticating large wild animals was for feeding purposes. Using them for beasts of burden for transport was a well-needed side effect. About 2000 years later, with the dawn of agriculture, we started using the ox for plowing fields. Again, a welcomed secondary effect was an improvement in land transportation which was needed to transport produce from fields to processing areas, storehouses, and not much later, the markets.


The Wheel and the Cart

The wheel was invented around the same time as agrarian societies were emerging. It is believed that the wheel was invented around 5000 BC in the Middle East. The axle followed and around 2500 BC the technology had advanced to the stage of having four-wheeled carts that were powered by oxen. It would take another 2000 years until we were able to more efficiently maneuver carts with the use of an axle capable of swiveling about a vertical axis. This technology can be considered to have been very advanced despite its efficiency. There was only a handful of steerable carts in 14th century England for example, widespread usage in Europe had to wait until the 17th century.

Horses were not used in Europe until 750 AD. We never managed to develop an effective harness for horses and stuck to using larger animals as the main power for heavy haulage over longer distances. Much earlier than 750 AD, the Asians had developed a tremendously more effective harness, specifically for use in horses. With their technology, a pair of horses were able to haul three tonnes as opposed to the Roman technology for carts and horses which could only haul 0.5 tonnes at the time. Over the new few hundred years, the horse would supplant the ox by its superior movement capability, traveling about twice as fast as the ox while having the same haulage capacity.

Freight in the previous millennium was thus dominated by carts and wagons powered by horses which can be seen a the predecessor of modern age truck freight. About half-way through the millennium, there were cart-based freight services operating in advanced European countries. Sleds and wheelbarrows remained very popular. Until we had better roads the use of carts and wagons was limited. The roads had always been an issue for the use of carts, dating back to 50 BC, the Romans administrated load limits in order to keep damage to roads at a minimum. Later on in Europe, various other methods of regulation were in place, such as wheel width.


Railway Freight

Rail as a part of land transport dates back to 600 BC where animal hauled railways using wooden rails were invented in Greece. It never saw widespread use, probably due to difficulty in building and to maintain the infrastructure needed. It was also around that time we started using four-wheeled carts powered by oxen. Rail transport was later picked up again by the Germans in the 16th century. They used horse-powered funiculars and wagonways.

Steam power was discovered in 1679 and it took another 100 years until we had a purposefully useful steam engine. Around that time steam and railway were combined and we started seeing widespread use of railways together with cast iron rails in the following years. At first, railways were only used for transporting goods. The first locomotives were capable of pulling a thirty-tonne train at 10km/h. As railway networks expanded and main railway lines were established we effectively 'paved' the way for the industrial revolution.

Rail transport was vastly superior to sea transport due to it being so much more reliable. It was less affected by the weather and was much safer as fewer goods were lost compared to sea transportation. Widespread use of railways and delivery networks saw the creation of standardization of time, the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Around 100 years after the steam engine was invented the electrified trains were introduced. At first communal transportation systems were electrified, such as trams and rapid transit systems like London Underground. During this time, steam-powered trains were replaced by diesel-electric trains. By the 2000s all countries had diesel-electric trains in use. In the 1960s Japan introduced fully electrified high-speed railways systems. Many countries are replacing the diesel-electric railways by fully electrified railway systems.


Truck Freight

Some freight trucks were used by the 19th century. They were used more for movable advertising space around cities rather than any utility purposes of transporting goods. Come early 20th century all that would change. Starting in 1910, the modern trucking industry started to rise and truck freight became a cornerstone in shipping. Truck freight spread very quickly due to the efficiency and loading capacity of trucks, especially over shorter distances. Once again regulations were put in place to limit damage on roads, with loading capacities ranging from 8 to 13 tonnes. Low capacity engines, solid tires and poor roads outside of urban areas limited the use of trucks within city limits.

During World War I the railroads got congested and alternative ways to transport goods over long distances were needed. This need spurred innovation in the area of truck freight, where long-distance trucks using inflatable tires started being used. These new tires allowed higher loads and higher speeds, while also doing less damage to the roads and infrastructure. Post World War I, roads were improved in the western world and the more efficient diesel engine replaced gasoline-powered engines in trucks.

Today there are millions and millions of trucks all around the world and Road Freight belongs to the top three most popular modes of transport; Sea Freight and Air Freight.

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