The Innovation History of the Forklift

The forklift, a machine with many different applications, has come a long way from its original design. After more than 100 years of changes and improvements, the forklift has wedged its way into numerous roles. This popular machine can be found in several industries including shipping, construction, and military.

There are almost as many variations of the forklift as there are needs for it. From nimble machines designed to move pallets in tight warehouse aisles to giant lifts used to move entire shipping containers, the forklift has positively impacted today’s methods of shipping, transportation, and storage.

Forklift Evolution Timeline: From the First Forklift Ever Made to Present Day

1906: Battery-powered truck invented to haul luggage

The first iteration of the forklift wasn’t a forklift at all, it was a truck developed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The railroad needed a more efficient way to move luggage from one place to the other, leading to the introduction of battery-powered platform trucks.

1917: First machine created to lift and move heavy objects

More than a decade later, the Clark Company created a machine to help transport materials around their axle plant. The machine was used primarily to lift heavy objects on one side of the factory and transport them to the other – it was named the Trucktractor.

1923: First lift to incorporate two forks and an extending mast

Six short years after the invention of the Trucktractor, Yale & Towne Manufacturing introduced a machine that most resembles the modern forklift. Their invention was the first to use two metal forks to lift loads off the ground and an extending mast to lift those loads above the height of the truck. This primitive version of the forklift used an electric motor to power a ratchet and pinion system before hydraulics were implemented.

Late 1930s: Creation of standardized forklift pallet size​

As the forklift became more prevalent after the first World War, the need for consistent pallet sizes arose. The implementation of standardized pallet sizes allowed for transport and shipping centers to move shipments with greater ease; decreasing shipping times in the process.

WWII: The forklift proves its versatility

World War ll brought about some of the most important technological improvements in the history of the United States. As the war raged on, the armed forces were looking for ways to streamline all processes to concentrate efforts on fighting the war. The forklift was seen as the answer to some of these problems. They helped bring more speed and efficiency to the movement of heavy objects.

1954: Lansing Bagnall incorporates forks with lateral movement

Close to a decade after their boom in popularity during WWII, forklifts gained another extremely useful tool. Lansing Bagnall, now Linde, was the first to produce a lift with forks that could move side to side as well as up and down. This meant their new forklift could be used in narrow aisles with the ability to lift objects higher. Lansing Bagnall’s invention paved the way for modern forklifts and warehouse layouts.

1950s-60s: Safety improvements are added

As warehouses were stuffed with more and more, forklifts began lifting heavier loads higher and safety became a top priority. The 1950s and 1960s had multiple developments in forklift safety that are still used today. The improvements were most notably the addition of fork backrests to stabilize loads and a cage protecting drivers from falling objects.

1980s: Driver productivity increased through ergonomics

For almost 20 years, the forklift stayed relatively untouched. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the question of how to increase workforce productivity was asked. This decade brought improvements in driver comfort and ergonomics to help solve this problem. These additions not only improved productivity, but also decreased the amount of injuries sustained during the workday. Better balanced forklifts and seatbelts for drivers were also incorporated in this decade.

1990s: Forklift emissions are regulated

Reflecting the worries of car emissions in everyday commuting, forklift emissions soon came under scrutiny. New regulations forced businesses to update older forklifts or purchase new machines to comply with the new standard. Many businesses chose the latter as new machines used cleaner fuel types including propane and electricity, along with improved technology.

Today: Technology is utilized to maximize efficiency

Today, forklifts are instrumental in the shipping, storage, and retail industries and they now have implemented more technology than ever before. Electric forklifts have become more widely used as they tend to last longer than those with combustion engines. Also, their batteries are lasting longer with the addition of regenerative braking and regenerative load lowering. These two improvements allow electric forklifts to recharge themselves as they are used throughout the day. Some forklifts used for warehouse storage even utilize computers and QR code readers to minimize organizational mistakes.

As a result of trials, errors, problems, and solutions, the forklift has become a machine many industries rely on to complete otherwise impossible tasks. Check out our available forklifts to determine which would work best for your current situation.


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