The First Forklift


Ever wonder what lead to the forklifts we see today?

Visit any warehouse and you’re bound to find at least one forklift. With over 150,000 units purchased each year, forklift trucks have made a huge impact since entering the scene in the early 20th century. Have you ever wondered how the forklift came about? Our blog today explores the history of the forklift and how this modern machine has evolved over the last 100 years.

In 1917 the Tructractor was introduced at the Clark Equipment Company in Buchanan, MI. A group of foundry workers designed and built a means of transportation to move heavy loads of castings and sand within the warehouse. The truck, very similar to the modern day forklift, had three wheels with the rear wheel controlling the steering. Employees took one of their shop tractors and installed a cargo box to the front of it. This allowed them to haul heavy loads of material in and around the warehouse, increasing production.

There was a unique benefit to the three wheel design. The back wheel created a tighter turning radius which made it very useful working in confined areas around the warehouse.

The problem with this early model was that the steering was not user friendly. When the operator turned the steering wheel in one direction, the Tructractor turned in the opposite direction. While it also had no brakes, it still go the job done and increased production efficiency.

As visitors came into Clark’s warehouse they became very interested in the Tructractor. Other businesses began asking Clark to produce a Tructractor to use in their own workplaces. Clark Equipment reacted and started production. However, this success was short lived.

The onset of the First World War caused a massive manufacturing shift to production for the war effort. Tructractor production stopped. Fortunately a visiting military officer noticed the three-wheeled vehicle, and quickly saw it as an answer to the military’s needs when transporting heavy explosives, guns, and ammunition. Clark Equipment was ordered to build Tructractors for the military. Production lines were added and eventually a new factory was built to produce the new industrial truck.

Arguments will always take place when it comes to the question “Who built the first forklift?” Although the Tructrator may not fit the current definition of a forklift, we can agree that the Tructrator helped pave the way to the equipment we use today. This innovative idea helped modernize the way we move materials, making it a simpler and a faster way to handle products.