What You Probably Didn’t Know About Semi-Trailers

It’s easy to take the semi-trailer for granted, but it’s actually a huge part of the commercial boom of the last 125+ years.
It’s easy to take the semi-trailer for granted, but it’s actually a huge part of the commercial boom of the last 125+ years.

What exactly is a “semi-trailer”? Who was the first person to build one? What is the history of semi-trailers? If you work in transportation, you might be interested in learning more about the back half of the tractor-trailer, which has hauled an immeasurable quantity of freight and played a critical role in the global expansion of trade for the past 125 years.

The Semi-Trailer Described

Most people use the phrase “semis” without giving any thought to what the term “semi-trailer” actually means. A semi-trailer does not have a front axle whereas a trailer does.

What this means is that the weight of the semi-trailer and its cargo is distributed over the trailers back wheels and the tractor that is pulling it. The semi-trailer can’t run on its own, but the tractor can.

The First Semi-Trailer is Designed by a Custom Car Maker

Alexander Winton, a Scottish-American inventor, is said to have built the first semi-trailer in 1897. He needed to get his custom cars, built in his Winton Motor Carriage Company in Cleveland, Ohio to his customers without putting any miles on the cars so he designed a car carrier that could be hauled by a truck. It wasn’t long before other car manufacturers were buying his semi-trailers to transport their vehicles.

The first semi-trailer built by Alexander Winton in 1897
The first semi-trailer built by Alexander Winton in 1897

During World War I, when the military discovered that tractor-trailers offered speed and flexibility not possible with railways or horse-drawn trailers, the use of what became known as “tractor-trailers” increased substantially. This was especially true with the invention of inflated (pneumatic) tires, which addressed concerns about the impacts of steel and solid rubber wheels on dirt and gravel roads at the time.

The expansion of paved roads in the 1930s made semis even more useful, and when the Interstate Highway System was built in the 1950s and 1960s, the tractor-trailer became the cargo transportation industry’s cornerstone.

Semi-Trailers Now

Since their early 1900s beginnings as custom car transporters semi-trailers have come a long way. Today there are many different types of semi-trailers and New Way Leasing has a range of them available for lease or rent.

Car carrier trailers take Winton’s vehicle hauling concept to the next level by allowing vehicles to be transported in two layers. The hauling capacity of the trailer is effectively doubled with this setup.

Flatbed trailers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including container trailers. These semi-trailers are built to transport shipping containers and have a chassis designed for extremely large loads. Transporting goods and commodities is made much easier by the simplicity with which containers can be loaded onto and retrieved from container trailers.

What’s in the Future for Semi Trailers?

What will future semi-trailers look like and what functions will they have? It’s difficult to predict, but one thing is certain: semi-trailers will continue to evolve to meet the demands of businesses as they change. As innovators and engineers continue to take Winton’s ingenious vehicle carrier in many new directions, technology that is in its infancy today, or that hasn’t even been envisaged yet, will undoubtedly be taken for granted by then.

Another certainty is that New Way Leasing will continue to supply our Seattle-Tacoma clients with the trailers and knowledge they require to run their businesses smoothly and effectively. If you have any queries concerning our semi-trailers, please contact New Way Leasing.