Early Transportation Innovations

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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It seems to me that it might be easierto discuss the existence of the Easter bunny compared to the challenges ofconvincing some that America’s first transportation industrywas full of innovation.  After all, antique horse-drawn vehicles arejust raw and rudimentary efforts that are only slightly elevated over stone agetools, right?  Of course, that’s wrongbut some perceptions can be hard to overcome.

Decades ago, when I began researchingthis subject, I came across a number of period materials outlining the size andcomplexity of America’s early transportation industry.  It was the first of many breakthroughshelping highlight the need for sufficient historical reports.  In the process, the discoveries opened doorsto countless intriguing – and still untold – stories.  I’ll never forget the first time I accessedU.S. patent records related to horse-drawn wagons.  With thousands upon thousands of patentsfiled and granted in the nineteenth century, it was dizzying to see so much ingenuityoccurring in what is often called ‘simpler’ times. 

Equally impressive, many of these ideashave served as foundational concepts for a wealth of advancements in the autoindustry.  After all, horse drawnvehicles were the primary method of wheeled transportation in America forroughly 200 years and many of the most basic requirements remain similar today.  During the mid to late 1800’s and early1900’s, numerous designs were created, adapted, and evolved for purposes ofthe day.  Some of those ideas have evenbecome part of our most modern needs and activities.

So, with intellectual property beingsuch a hot topic and well-known part of business these days, I thought we’d takea look at some wheeled ideas born at least a century ago thatare still being used.

ThePop-Up Camper…

Surely, one ofthe great space-saving innovations of the mid to late 20th century is thepop-up camper.  It’s easy to tow, stow, maneuver,and use while packing a wealth of space for outdoor camping trips.  It seems natural that something so advancedwould have been developed by modern minds focused on a shrinking world and theneed for efficient, cost-effective, multi-purpose designs, right?  Well, not exactly. 

Believe it ornot, these concepts were first engineered for and incorporated into horse-drawnwagons.  That’s right… Wagons.  Even in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s,camping was a popular activity in America. So, it’s fairly easy to find a number of patents covering variations ofpop-up and adjustable camp transportation. 

 This patent for a pop-up wagon camper was filed more than a century ago in 1916.
  Developed in the early 1890's, this patent for a wagon camper shows tremendous similarities to modern RV's. 
While not apop-up design, the McMaster Camping Car (wagon) was one of America’s first trueRV campers.  It was patented in the1880’s, included a host of home-style comforts, and was actually used onexcursions within Yellowstone National Park. I wrote a blog on this ultra-rare vehicle some time ago. 

TheRefrigerated Truck…

From beveragesand perishable foods to medical needs, refrigerated trucks and trailers are a verycommon sight today.  Incredibly, it’s anidea with roots to horse-drawn wagons and dates to as early as the 1870’s. 

This beverage cooler was designed for horse-drawn wagons. It dates to the early part of 1879 and incorporates block ice and ventilation fans for optimum refrigeration.
MobileScissor Lifts…

In today’sworlds of manufacturing, construction, maintenance, and repair, the convenienceof mobile scissor lifts continues to play a vital role.  More secure than simple extension ladders andhaving an expanded work space, these rolling scaffolds are equipped for amultitude of uses.  Even so, it’s aconcept that’s been a part of American life for well over a century.  In fact, the 1904 patent image below clearlyshows the benefits of having an adjustable platform on wheels.  

  Submitted to the U.S. Patent office in 1904, this unique scissor-lift concept has become a valued part of life in the modern era.
Built-inTailgate Steps…

Those 21stcentury ‘step’ additions to the rear bumpers and tailgates of pickup trucksmust be an overdue idea, right?  I mean,climbing into the back of a truck bed can be hard on the back and knees,especially if you’re carrying a load.  Well,back in the 1890's, the challenge was the same for our ancestors.  As a result, having a collapsible stepattached to a wagon’s end gate (tailgate) was an equally important idea to somefolks.  Take a look at the patent imagebelow. 

 Two Wisconsin men are credited with this nineteenth century patent featuring a built-in step to the back of a wagon box.   Filed with the patent office in 1896, the idea has been emulated in modern pickup truck designs.
It seems that the old adage about ‘themore things change, the more they stay the same,’ still has a lot ofmerit.  As such, the early innovations Ishared above are just a few of the ideas initiated during the world ofwagons that have found their way into modern life.  Twin axle steering control, fixed axlesteering, leaf spring suspension, bead locks for wheels/tires, run-flat tires, convertible tops, vehicle fenders, dump bed designs, automaticbrakes, and so many other concepts that were drawn up in the horse-drawn era remainas pertinent ideas today. 
No matter how deceivingly simple it mayappear, America’s first transportation industry and the specialized needs ofwagons moving west created a world of innovation.  It’s a legacy so strong that we're still benefiting from ideas born in the horse-drawn age.    
Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC 
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