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August Fruehauf Inducted into Automobile Hall of Fame

All images courtesy Automotive Hall of Fame except as noted.

August Fruehauf was inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame this year, 87 years after he died. The name may sound familiar to you, but you may not know why. Fruehauf is one of a few men credited with creating the trucking industry in the United States back in the early part of the 20th century.


Early Life of Fruehauf

August Fruehauf and shop employees with the boat trailer which was the impetus for the Fruehauf Trailer Corporation.

August Fruehauf was the son of German immigrants who settled in Frasier, Michigan. When he was 14, in 1882, he went off to Detroit to seek his fortune. Eight years later he became a blacksmith and quickly became known as one of the best horse carriage builders and blacksmiths in the county.

This early advertising brochure shows the ingenuity and simplicity of Fruehauf’s trailer design.

In 1914, a local lumber merchant asked him to build a trailer to carry his (the merchant’s) pleasure boat, with the trailer to be towed by a Ford Model T. Fruehauf removed the front axle from the man’s wagon and, using a hitch pin, attached the “new” trailer to the Model T where the rear seat had been. Fruehauf’s customer saw the practical uses of this type of trailer and commissioned Fruehauf to build similar strengthened trailers for his lumber yard.

The trailer Fruehauf made for his boat trailer customer Mr. Sibley.

Fruehauf called these lumber trailers “semi trailers.” Other lumber merchants in the area saw these first Fruehauf trailers and started making orders for the trailers for their lumber yards. Four years later, Fruehauf was building so many trailers that he incorporated as the Fruehauf Trailer Company. Over the next few years, the company and Fruehauf pioneered several new trailer design concepts and sizes. Fruehauf remained president of the company until 1929, the year before he died.


Fruehauf Trailer Company Innovations Still in Use Today

This is the hitch design Fruehauf came up with. A slightly modified version of it is still in use today around the world.

The hitching method that Fruehauf used on his original trailers over 80 years ago is still, with minor modifications, in use today. In fact, almost every trucking industry innovation pioneered by Fruehauf is still in use today. His 1926 invention for connecting a semi-trailer to the tractor, the automatic fifth wheel, is still in use today. His refrigerated trailer design is also still in use today, with minor modifications to keep up with refrigeration and insulation technology. 


Fruehauf Trailers Paved the Way for Economic Expansion

Fruehauf Trailer Corporation was the first to come out with the rear (and side) dump wagon/trailer.

Previous to the explosion of the popularity of the Fruehauf trailer, most products were moved around from the train- and dockyards of the country by horse-drawn wagon. The semi-trailer meant that more product could be delivered in a single load, and in less time than with horses. Once this was realized by other industries, use of the “semi-trailer” exploded.

Image credit: Orange truck and trailer, by Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The US military used a staggering 125 Fruehauf Trailer designs during World War II. The country’s economic expansion of the early Twenties and after World War II can be directly credited to Fruehauf’s basic “semi-trailer” design. It was this legacy that was the deciding factor in his election to the Automotive Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.

The company even collaborated with NASA and the Air Force on this missile trailer.

Image credit: Missile trailer, by SDASM Archives - Atlas Collection Image, Public Domain,


Gallery: Fruehauf Trailers though the Years