A Brief History of the Forklift

Take a look around the average factory or warehouse and imagine what it would be like without forklifts. How many workers would it take to keep pace with a single forklift’s capacity to handle materials? How large would a warehouse have to be if there were no forklifts able to reach up to the highest pallet racks? It’s almost impossible to imagine operating any materials handling business without them, isn’t it? Well, only a century ago, there was no such thing as a forklift.

Forklift manufacturers vie for the title of “first lift truck manufacturer,” but in fact, the first lift truck manufacturer is no longer in business. According to many sources, that honor belongs to the now-defunct Baker, Rauch & Long Company, which designed and manufactured a bomb handling electric crane in 1915.

It wasn’t long before manufacturers of materials handling equipment saw the benefits of such equipment. In the United States, Clark is credited with creating the precursor to the modern counterbalance forklift. Their Tructractor was originally used in their own axle plant in 1917, but by 1920, the company was producing them commercially.

Yale was quick to follow suit and introduced the first genuine electric forklift with forks that could actually “lift” on an elevated mast. This forklift used a rack and pinion lifting system. Although primitive by today’s standards, it was state-of-the-art in 1923, when it was first introduced.

Once these early tentative ventures proved successful, it wasn’t long before the forklift age began in earnest and the materials handling world was changed forever. By the late 1930s, pallets had already become standardized; an innovation that vastly increased workplace productivity.

World War II was responsible for major improvements in lift truck technology as manufacturers had to come up with new designs to move far greater numbers of materials needed for the war effort. Electric lift trucks needed to last longer, too, and the first full-shift 8-hour forklift batteries were invented.

An older forklift can be a powerful workhorse in the modern workplace.

In the boom years following the war, the materials handling industry reshaped itself to handle increased demand. Warehouses were redesigned upwards to handle larger amounts of stock without having to expand horizontally. In order to do this, a new kind of forklift was required and the first narrow aisle forklift was introduced by the Raymond Corporation. Called the Model 400 Spacemaker, it was patented in 1951 and by 1953, 1000 of these revolutionary narrow aisle lift trucks had been manufactured.

Early forklifts bore little resemblance to today’s sleek, high-tech designs, but one thing all lift trucks have in common is that they are designed to last. With regular maintenance, even an older forklift can be a productive workhorse in the modern factory or warehouse.

About Marie Q.

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