To celebrate the centennial of August Fruehauf’s 1914 invention of the semi-trailer, the Fruehauf Trailer Historical Society has produced a book to tell the company’s colorful history and that of the family behind it.
Called “Singing Wheels: August Fruehauf & The History of the Fruehauf Trailer Company,” it was written by Ruth Ann Fruehauf — the founder’s granddaughter — and Darlene Norman. Available for sale in both soft- and hard-cover, the 129-page book contains 90 pages of rarely seen original photographs from the family archives. It sells for US$29.95 and $39.95 respectively.
Fruehauf’s story is an integral part of North American transportation history in the last century. The pioneering company facilitated the growth of continental transportation as a viable alternative to rail and brought efficient transportation from the farmer’s gate and the factory’s loading dock. It came to dominate the trailer market.
In 1997 Fruehauf was ranked 75th among the largest companies worldwide, but difficulties both internally and externally led to bankruptcy proceedings not long afterwards and the U.S. company was bought by Wabash National. Yet Fruehauf trailers are still being produced elsewhere in countries like France, Germany, Mexico, and New Zealand.
It all began in 1914 in Detroit, where German immigrant August Fruehauf was a well known and accomplished blacksmith and wagon maker. A local lumber tycoon needed to transport an 18-ft boat to his cottage and wanted to do so with his new Model-T roadster. He asked Fruehauf if he could convert a wagon to haul behind the Model-T.
So August and his partner Otto Neumann created a sturdy two-wheeler that hooked to the rear of Sibley’s Model-T frame with a pole that acted as tongue and brake. They removed the back seat of the roadster to support the front end of the wagon and devised a coupling to hitch the wagon to the car. August called it a semi-trailer. Henry Ford responded by cancelling the warranty on Sibley’s Model-T.