A potted history of the Fork Lift Truck
By Tony Sellick
Man has always looked for easier ways of accomplishing difficult strenuous tasks and one can easily think back to the Stone Age man and the invention of the lever. It was Archimedes who finally recognised the importance of the lever and his famous statement "Give me but one firm spot on which to stand and I will move the earth" is well known. We doubt that he was thinking of modern day fork lifts when he said that and indeed it was to be many years before they were developed in the United States.
In the 1800's basic manually powered sack trucks were developed and are still in use to this day! As goods became more diverse other types of hand operated equipment were developed - platform trucks and four wheeled trailers and the like. Powered versions did not appear until the beginning of the 20th century and were driven by electric motors powered by traction batteries. Safety was definitely not a consideration in those days but they did assist in getting the job done and later types were made with a platform which could be electrically raised and lowered.
It was the first world war that made the fork lift truck popular mainly due to the shortage of labour. After the war the truck designers decided that putting loads on top of each other would be rather a good idea and so a high lift version of the platform truck was produced.
Clark are credited with producing the forerunner of the seated counterbalanced truck in 1917 but it was my old company Yale, that in 1925, produced the first electric truck that had raising forks and an elevating mast. No tilt was fitted to the machine and the lift was by ratchet and pinion as hydraulic systems had not been incorporated into trucks at that stage. I actually drove this machine whilst working for Yale in the 1970s under the guidance of Syd Walters and I can assure you that a modern day operator would hold their hands up in horror at the prospect - I did!
At first industry was slow to take up the idea of the lift truck but the advent of the second world war soon made the them indispensable for loading vast quantities of war goods onto wagons and ships etc. The fork lift tuck had finally arrived! After the war British industry started importing trucks from the USA and they were used mainly for outside applications but then in 1946 the first truly British company, Coventry Climax, produced the first fork lift truck and the rest as they say, is history.
One company who had a very significant impact on the UK truck industry was Lansing Bagnall who took the counterbalanced truck redesigned it and produced the worlds first reach truck for use in narrow aisle applications.
Trucks nowadays are more sophisticated with complex electronic and hydraulic systems, high visibility masts and with comfort and safety for the operator paramount.
If you are interested in the history of Fork Lifts contact Jim Brindley who is curator of the National Fork Truck Heritage Centre in the Midlands. His number is 0780 1954167