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A brief history of the forklift truck

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An Introduction to the forklift truck


With the variety of forklift trucks available nowadays, from the electric counterbalanced truck to the side loader, the telescopic handler to the rider stacker, it’s hard to imagine that the story of the forklift truck began all the way back in 1917, with a single machine that looked far more like a tractor than it did a modern forklift.

The Clark Equipment Company built the earliest version of the forklift in the UK, and the machine so much resembled a tractor, that they named it the Clark Tructractor. While these platforms did help workers to more easily move large and heavy loads, the platforms on the Tructractor still had to be loaded manually.

The next innovation was a chain system, developed in the 1920s, which enabled workers to lift items vertically. These machines weren’t electric, and most certainly required a whole lot of effort, but they could lift a load far enough off the ground to improve the transportation of freight.


Forklift truck History


It wasn’t until 1925 that the Yale company produced an electric truck that we might recognise as a forklift, with forks and a mast that raised using a ratchet and pinion system.

Both world wars pushed forward the use and development of the forklift truck. Trying to imagine the sheer logistics involved in transporting artillery, ammunition, and supplies without the reliable forklift is just about impossible. And the lack of workforce, due to so many men enlisting in the armed forces, also contributed to the wider use of the forklift, as more could be lifted with fewer people.

With huge warehouses needing to store goods higher and higher to save space, and with narrower aisles to fit in more goods, something had to be done to make the forklift more adaptable still, and to develop different forms of truck that could reach the very tops of shelving and navigate through the smaller aisles.


Forklift truck History


Until the 1950s and 1960s, more thought had gone into what the trucks could do, rather than the safety of their operators, but with time safety features began to be introduced, including back rests and guards. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the 1980s that thought went into more ergonomic designs to ensure comfort for the operators, with the added advantage that the new designs also reduced strains and injuries.

Nowadays, environmental considerations affect the forklift industry just as much as any other, with standards for exhaust emissions a key consideration for forklift manufacturers.

In the future, forklifts could be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, in order to ensure the industry adapts to the modern world’s need for clean energy. As for design, the only thing we can be sure of is that the forklift will continue to change and adapt to meet the needs of its market.


Global Materials Handling are the leading provider of forklift hire to the North West of England. Contact us for a quote today, by clicking here.

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