100 Years of Material Handling: How Forklifts Have Evolved

100 Years of Material Handling: How Forklifts Have EvolvedWhere did forklifts come from and how have they evolved? The history of the forklift is one marked by innovation and invention. Originally, forklifts were manually powered hoists that were used to lift loads. These initial prototypes would serve as the starting point of evolution to the sophisticated and enriched machines you see today. According to Toyota, these original units were wrought-iron axles and cast iron wheels which enabled loads to be lifted and transported without manual labor.  As a result, change was called for in the early 1900’s as horizontal and vertical motion resulted in the first crude forklift capable of lifting many items a few inches off the ground.

1906 – The Pennsylvania Railroad introduced battery-powered platform trucks for moving luggage at a train station in Altoona, Pennsylvania. This concept would later drive the introduction of the modern electric forklift.

World War I Era – Across the globe, forklifts were designed, calibrated and revamped to meet the existing demands forged by the First World War. In the UK , several different types of material handling equipment were developed by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies of Ipswich. The necessity for these devices came largely in part to labor shortages caused by the war. In 1917 Clark, a US company that remains in business today that has cemented itself as an industry leader began developing and using powered tractor and powered lift tractors in their factories.

1923 – In the Roaring 20’s the first electric truck was introduced, incorporating a vertical mast and raising forks. The creator of this contraption was Yale and has since been regarded by many as the first proper model of the traditional forklift truck. According to H&F Lift Trucks, Yale integrated ratchet and pinion system, which allowed the lifting mechanism to work in this device and the mast could be elevated above the height of the truck.

World War II – With war breaking out across the world, advancements in military and industrial technology called for remodeling and revolutions in existing forklifts and material handling appliances. This period of invention and conceptualization served as a benchmark and foundation for the broadening of forklift applications and material handling appliances.

1950’s and 1960’s – Forklift manufacturers adopt a safety-oriented approach, installing and introducing new features and mechanisms designed to protect forklift operators and reduce the risk of accidents and incidents in the workplace. A great example of forklifts being designed to meet evolving needs is the creation of the narrow aisle forklift found for emerging distribution centers with robust inventories.

1980’s – Forklifts are now tailored to meet ergonomic demands to bolster productivity and efficiency. In addition, forklifts were also constructed for comfort and ease of operation ultimately reducing injuries in the workplace.

Forklifts Today – According to Toyota, forklifts are no longer simply gas-fed lift trucks. Now forklifts come electric-powered or as hybrids. Additionally, forklifts now come in four basic varieties, each with a pedigree for specifically tackling certain jobs and tasks. It reminds me of modern cartridge heater that can reach high temperatures and still be cost effective. Forklifts now come as Internal Combustion Cushion Tire Forklifts, Internal Combustion Pneumatic Tire Forklifts, Pallet Jacks or Electric Forklifts. It


About Tom Reddon

Tom has been involved in the forklift industry since 1986. He loves doing research, blogging, and speaking about forklifts. You can contact Tom on his Twitter or Google+ profiles.

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