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The History of HGVs

HGV Training Centre

If you’ve been with us a while, you know that we firmly believe that HGVs are critical to keeping our country running. As the recent issues with Brexit have shown, we rely on HGVs to move goods around the country and in and out, and without them, life would be very different. But how did we get to this point? What did we do before the HGV, and how did it evolve to be such an important part of our economy? Today, we present – a history of HGVs.


The Early 1900s – Innovation: Lorry

HGVs as they are today didn’t always exist. Back in the early 1900s, goods were transported in much smaller vehicles, more resembling trucks and vans. But at this time, being a truck driver really wasn’t a desirable job at all. This is mainly because tyres in those days were made of solid rubber, which transmitted every bump in the road (and there were a lot), and generally made everything very uncomfortable for the driver. But around 1912, the pneumatic tyre was invented, and this changed things completely. Driving was suddenly much more comfortable and tyres were much more reliable and durable – both of which sped up the whole shipping and freighting process. It’s a small change, but it was absolutely key in creating the success of the HGV industry we see today.

Around the same time, big changes were happening in America. In a bid to show manufacturers and retailers that roads and highways were going to be major influences in the coming years, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce held a demonstration. They sponsored a truck to drive, fully loaded, from Seattle to New York, and deliver goods there. It showcased the promise of both the roads and the new style HGVs that were being developed, and highlighted that if these giant companies didn’t get on board with innovation, they would be left behind! The journey was a huge success, and took 31 days to complete.


The 1920s – Lighting the Way

It wasn’t until the 1920s that electric headlights and sidelights became common on vehicles, including HGVs. This might seem like a small thing, but it had a huge impact on the haulage industry, because it made it possible for drivers to travel at night, as well as during the day. This effectively doubled the progress of any journey, significantly cut delivery times, and transformed haulage from a luxury to a necessity for any business dealing in goods. Businesses were able to grow much more effectively, and the haulage process was much more efficient.

But it wasn’t just the electric light that boosted growth. The addition of the fifth wheel for HGVs allowed them to speed up the process of picking up and dropping off loads from lorry trips. So when combined with electric headlights, the HGV industry shifted into high gear. This led to a spike in demand, new roads being built, and more drivers being hired than ever before. Businesses who had seen the success of their competitors were rushing to keep up, and the HGV cemented its importance in the economy of the UK. Coupled with the building of thousands of new roads, there were over 329,000 long-haul HGVs registered in the UK by the 1930s.


The 1950s – Wartime Woes

Of course, the war changed a lot of things in the world and in the UK, including the HGV industry. Before 1950 there were a limited number of HGVs doing long-haul trips thanks to the high price of petrol and diesel. But during the war, lorries and HGVs were manufactured at a rapid rate so that equipment, supplies and soldiers could be delivered across the country. In total, over 227,000 new HGVs were manufactured during this time to support the war effort, sending the number of long-haul vehicles on the roads through the road. This increase in demand also led to the birth of many new haulage companies, many of whom are still operating today.


And now? The HGV is still evolving, with electric HGVs making their debut on our roads last year. HGVs are a vital part of the UK economy and infrastructure, and without them, our life would look very different indeed. If you’re interested in becoming a HGV driver, we would love to help. Just get in touch with the team today.

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