Pickup Truck History

The History of

the Pickup Truck

America’s Favorite Ride

You’ve heard the name before, but what exactly is a pickup truck? Technically, a pickup truck is a small truck with an enclosed cab and open bed. A pickup truck is a lightweight utility vehicle known by a multitude of names around the world—a bakkie in South Africa and a ute (short for utility) in Australia, for example.

The basic style of pickup truck has a modified truck cab with an open back.

Since pickup trucks can vary by make, model, purpose, and even region, styles throughout the US appear almost endless. The name pickup truck may seem rather obvious since the truck can be used to “pick up” and carry heavy or oversized loads.

Over the years, pickups have also been referred to as half-ton trucks. In layman’s terms, the half-ton truck description came from a truck’s ability to carry up to a half ton of cargo in the cab and bed combined, or 1000 pounds. However, trucks have evolved so much today that their payload capacities now frequently exceed 1000 pounds; the half-ton truck description was more accurate when referring to early pickup models of the 1960s.

Since the popular pickup prototype was introduced in 1925, pickup trucks have spread far and wide in the US. Some states have a higher concentration of pickups than others. Would you be surprised to learn that California is the state with the largest number of pickup trucks at 24%? Texas follows in a close second at 21%; Florida comes in a distant third at 10%, according to US Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration figures.

Ford Model T Runabout

The first well-known pickup truck can be traced back as far as the factory-produced Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body introduced by Henry Ford in 1925.

10 states with most pickup trucks

Though Ford was technically responsible for putting the pickup truck on the market in 1925, there were other early designers that contributed to pickup evolution:

1896

Gottlieb Daimler invented what he called vehicle no. 42. This automobile provided the first truck concept as a horseless wagon with a 4 hp, 1.1 L, 2 cylinder engine; vehicle no. 42 was advertised to pull 3300 pounds, although many skeptics disagreed.

1922

The first pickup truck was introduced in Japan.

1925

The Ford Motor Company offered customers the option to add a truck bed onto the model T; the Model-T Runabout with Pickup Body was mass-produced. The Model-A pickup truck with an all-steel cab and roll-up windows was sold in 1928.

Early 1900s

King, Reo, Autocar, and Auto Wagon pickup truck styles were factory produced.

1918

Chevrolet produced early truck models that looked similar to a car, without a rear body frame. In order for the vehicle to function as a truck, the customer had to install their own bed.

1929

The Chrysler Corporation produced the first half-ton Dodge pickup truck.

1931

Chevrolet factory-assembled pickup trucks hit the market.

1935

Toyota launched the model G1 pickup truck.

1896

Gottlieb Daimler invented what he called vehicle no. 42. This automobile provided the first truck concept as a horseless wagon with a 4 hp, 1.1 L, 2 cylinder engine; vehicle no. 42 was advertised to pull 3300 pounds, although many skeptics disagreed.

Early 1900s

King, Reo, Autocar, and Auto Wagon pickup truck styles were factory produced.

1918

Chevrolet produced early truck models that looked similar to a car, without a rear body frame. In order for the vehicle to function as a truck, the customer had to install their own bed.

1922

The first pickup truck was introduced in Japan.

1925

The Ford Motor Company offered customers the option to add a truck bed onto the model T; the Model-T Runabout with Pickup Body was mass-produced. The Model-A pickup truck with an all-steel cab and roll-up windows was sold in 1928.

1929

The Chrysler Corporation produced the first half-ton Dodge pickup truck.

1931

Chevrolet factory-assembled pickup trucks hit the market.

1935

Toyota launched the model G1 pickup truck.

At the start of the 1930s, conventional automobiles were manufactured lower to the ground. For this reason, it became impossible to convert a car into a truck by adding a bed onto the back. Trucks had to be purchased as a separate vehicle from an auto manufacturer. Automakers ramped up their pickup truck production following World War II, and popularity soared.

How much do you know about America’s favorite ride?


Here are

15 fun facts about pickups

The first Australian ute truck was manufactured by Ford Australia in 1932.

By 1936, the Ford Motor Company had already produced 3 million pickup trucks and was the leader in industry sales.

The US government halted the production of consumer trucks during World War II.

Pickup trucks became a “status vehicle” in the 1950s.

Toyota didn’t manufacture on the US pickup market until 1965 with the Toyota Stout.

Pickup truck sales boomed in the 1990s thanks to dirt cheap gas prices and a flourishing economy.

Pickup truck popularity increased in Japan until the 1990s when SUV preference took over.

A pickup truck is called a “slipper” in Romania.

The F150 has been the best-selling pickup truck in the US over 37 years

High-performance pickup trucks are considered muscle trucks, such as the Dodge Warlock or Ford F150 SVT Raptor.

A sport-utility truck has four doors and an open bed, derived off the sport-utility vehicle (SUV) design.

A four-door pickup truck is called a crew cab, double cab, or dual cab and can seat 4 to 6 people.

Commercial pickup trucks may be sold without a bed; a cargo-specific bed can be installed by the customer

The 1973 Chevy C-10 was seen in The Terminator.

Back to the Future featured the popular 1985 Toyota SR5 pickup truck.

There’s much more to the history of the pickup than its early beginnings. Read on to find out how the multipurpose pickup truck became an American icon…


The History of the Pickup Truck:

An American Classic

Decade by decade, the pickup truck picked up steam and changed its look and functionality:

1931 Closed Cab Ford Model A Pickup

1930s

In 1928, Chrysler bought the Dodge Brothers Company. Chrysler manufactured Fargo trucks from 1928 to 1930. The first half-ton pickup produced by Dodge was the Merchants Express pickup in 1929. The truck featured exceptional speed for the time—powered with a six cylinder engine—and an attractive body. Chevrolet changed the look of pickup trucks with a lightweight model featuring the industry’s first overhead valve six cylinder engine, produced in 1929. Ford upped the ante with a Flathead V-8 pickup truck in 1932; Dodge produced a Flathead six cylinder engine pickup truck in 1933.

Standout Pickups: The Ford Motor Company manufactured 29,549 pickups before stopping the 1931 Model A production in 1932.

The Model A is now considered one of the most popular automobiles manufactured in the past century.

1947 3/4-ton Model ER Chevrolet pickup

1940s

The major automobile divisions of the 1940s, Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge, launched their postwar vehicles in 1949, following World War II. Many pickup enthusiasts believe that Dodge B-Series pickup trucks took the lead due to their unique, never before seen cab design. The Dodge half-ton pickup featured a chair height seat to improve driver visibility; a wider, higher windshield; and optional rear quarter cab windows to reduce blind spots. In the late 1940s, Chevrolet produced Advance Design light-duty pickup trucks with improved features and design in what was considered a new post-war look. Ford produced the First Generation of F-Series pickup trucks from 1948 to 1952.

Standout Pickups: The Advance Design 1947 Chevrolet 3/4 ton Model ER pickup was powered by the 216.5 in.³ overhead valve six cylinder Chevy engine. The truck came with the whole package—a chrome grille, chrome window trim, and rear quarter windows—normally reserved for half-ton pickups.

1956 Dodge B-3-B pickup

1950s

In 1956, the Interstate Highway System was authorized in the US to support both personal and commercial trucking. Within the decade, a growing number of Americans moved from cities to suburbs, promoting the rise of the automobile—as well as the pickup truck. Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge remained top leaders in the marketplace by manufacturing newer pickup models with contemporary features and body styles. The 1955 Chevy pickup truck introduced the first modern V-8 engine with overhead valves, offering improved horsepower at a higher speed. The first crew cab was introduced in the International Harvester in 1957, featuring three doors; a fourth door was added to the model in 1961.

Standout Pickups: The sleek style of the updated Dodge 1956 B-3-B half-ton pickup featured a cab-wide rear wraparound window for unparalleled visibility.

1964 Dodge D100 Utiline pickup

1960s

GMC introduced new pickup designs at the start of the decade—including a full-width hood, jet pod grilles, and a pinched-waist body crease. Ford expanded their pickup truck cab by producing their first crew cab vehicle in 1965, following the introduction of the factory-built Dodge crew cab in 1963. Japanese manufacturers Datsun and Toyota changed the pickup culture in North America in the 1960s by introducing the compact pickup truck. In the 60s, pickup truck transmissions improved dramatically across-the-board as pickups were now designed to travel longer distances at a higher speed, while carrying a heavier load.

Standout Pickups: The Dodge Sweptline Pickup Series was the first of its kind to introduce cab-wide, full-width, smooth-side cargo boxes; 1962 Sweptline pickups also featured a new grille design.

1978 Dodge Adventurer

1970s

Dodge upped the ante again in the 1970s when they introduced Lifestyle pickup trucks. In the 1970s, Americans were ready to hit the road—on vacation, on cross-country road trips, and traveling to see family. Family-friendly vehicles like station wagons, SUVs, and pickup trucks became popular to tow travel trailers and campers. The 1972 Dodge D200 Camper Special fit the bill with a slide-on camper body. Meanwhile, GMC catered to a new customer demographic looking to haul heavier loads and equipment in pickup trucks by introducing their first crew cab. GMC updated all models and improved interiors for passenger transport as well—padded material was used in lieu of metal fittings along interior truck surfaces.

Standout Pickups: The 1978 half-ton Dodge Adventurer was a rare find in a standard pickup, featuring a 440 powered engine.

1989 Dodge W250 Diesel Pickup

1980s

The extended cab pickup truck concept emerged in the 1980s; Chevrolet offered S-Series extended cab models in 1983, and GMC offered full-size extended cab pickups in 1988. Meanwhile, the major American pickup manufacturers—Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge—introduced smaller pickup trucks to the US market to compete with more compact foreign models. At the end of the 1980s, GMC introduced their new aerodynamic series of trucks, starting in 1987. The revamped trucks set the standard for modern GMC pickup design and manufacturing.

Standout Pickups: Dodge followed in the footsteps of Ford and GMC to introduce their own diesel pickup lineup. The 1989 Dodge W250 was a heavy-duty, rear-wheel, one-ton pickup powered by a Cummins diesel engine.

1999 Dodge 1500 Club Cab

1990s

The 90s were a big year for the ever-popular Ford F-Series, in production since 1948; the Ford F-Series eighth generation was manufactured from 1987 to 1991 and the ninth generation from 1992 to 1996. The tenth generation 1997 Ford F150 was completely revamped in the first redesign since 1980. Updates included a larger interior, better fuel economy, and advanced aerodynamics. Dodge also launched their new Ram pickups in 1993; also called the T-300, the Dodge Ram featured a more spacious cab with extra interior room and storage.

Standout Pickups: The 1999 Dodge 1500 Club Cab catered to younger drivers by offering Bright Solar Yellow body paint, chosen by 2.5% of buyers.

2000s-Present

2011 Ford F350

GMC introduced Duramax diesel engines in the Sierra HD in the 2000’s. GMC expanded further to carve out a corner in the luxury pickup market by launching the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali pickup in 2007—standout Denali features included a large chrome grille, a deep bumper cover, and a crew cab, marketed to luxury buyers. Ford launched the twelfth generation of F150s, set to manufacture from 2009 to 2014. Within the series, Ford updated the full-size truck platform and added unique features in Super Duty grilles and headlamps, standard cabs downsized to two doors instead of four, and the elimination of the manual gearbox.

Standout Pickups: In the present day, Ford trucks still specialize in heavy-duty payloads; the 2011 Ford F350 one-ton pickup advertised a payload between 3580 pounds and 6520 pounds, dependent on configuration.

Makes and Styles

of Pickup Trucks

Pickup trucks can be broken down further by make and style.


Make refers to the pickup truck manufacturer. Popular pickup manufacturers include:

  • Cadillac

  • Chevrolet

  • Ford

  • GMC

  • Honda

  • Isuzu

  • Land Rover

  • Mitsubishi

  • Nissan

  • Ram

  • Toyota

Beyond the make, a pickup truck may be further categorized by style:

Cab

Regular

Normally, a two door cab.

Extended

May include two front doors, two rear doors, and rear seating.

Club

Includes second row seating.

Crew

Four regular doors.

Body

Compact

Most popular type of basic pickup; may include a two axle frame, a standard cab, and a gasoline engine.

Mid-size

May have a higher-power engine compared to a compact pickup; for example, the 1987 Dodge Dakota was the first mid-size pickup introduced with V-6 and V-8 engines.

Dual-wheel

The largest style of full-size pickup features two rear tires on each side of the rear axle; this truck style may come with a fifth wheel to tow a car or a trailer.

Full-size

Larger pickup truck designed to carry heavier loads, normally a minimum 1000 pound capacity in the bed; may come with a V-6 or V-8 engine and optional four-wheel drive (4WD) for more power.

custom

Pickup trucks may be customized by features, like:

  • Engine type
  • Fuel economy
  • Rear-wheel drive,
    AWD, or 4WD
  • Towing
    capabilities
  • Cargo bed
  • Safety
    technologies
  • Sound system
  • Satellite/
    HD radio
  • Navigation
    system

The Pickup Truck Hall of Fame

Most Popular Pickups in History

With new designs year after year, pickups are just as popular as they were when they hit the scene in the 1930s.


Here are 10 of the top-selling pickups in history:

Ford F150

Updated to “set a new standard for full-size pickups,” the F150 is part of the Ford F-Series—the world’s bestselling truck series at 34 million models over 30 consecutive years.

Chevrolet 3100

The 1947 Chevrolet 3100 pickup is a well-known classic—a light truck with Advance Design that quickly gained popularity following World War II.

Chevrolet Cameo

The 1955 Chevy Cameo was quintessential 1950s with a modern body redesign and V-8 engine, a stark contrast from light-duty Chevys powered by six cylinder engines until 1955.

Toyota Tacoma

This compact Toyota pickup was first launched in 1964 and has now reached the eighth generation in production.

Chevrolet C/K

The 1967 Chevrolet C/K was an impressive pickup truck that was part of the Chevy Action Line; the Chevy C/K fit the typical truck silhouette with strong angles, hard lines, and versatility in customization.

Ford Ranger

1982 was a good year for the Ford Ranger, later redesigned in 1993 with an exterior upgrade in 1998; new Ranger models feature advanced safety technologies and improved fuel economy.

GMC Syclone

In 1992, the GMC Syclone made waves with a 4.3 L V-6 turbo charger engine within a compact pickup truck—along with a four-speed automatic transmission and Corvette shifter.

Dodge Ram

The Dodge Ram 1500 was introduced in 1994 to replace previous Dodge pickup models; the Ram quickly grew in popularity and was newly redesigned in 2009.

Dodge Dakota

The Dodge Dakota pickup was redesigned in 2008 with quad cab and extended cab options—along with a new center console, instrument panel, and 4.7 L V-8 engine.

Chevrolet Silverado

The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 was recently updated in 2009 with a next-generation V-8 engine, brand-new platform, and new front-end in a full-size pickup; the popular Silverado 1500 boasts 40 different configurations available.


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