In Part 1 of this article some of the early history of August Fruehauf and the Fruehauf Trailer Company was highlighted. In Part 2, an overview of the various types of trailers that Fruehauf pioneered was provided. In Part 3, the company’s later history and legacy are explored.
Recognition of Fruehauf Trailer Company
In the November 3, 1950, issue of TIDE (“The Newsletter for Advertising Executives”) the following appeared: “How important is Fruehauf Trailer Company in the trailer industry? To say that it is the General Motors of the business understates the case. Not only is Fruehauf the biggest firm in the field, it sells more [trailers] than all the others put together.”
By 1954, the company had nine manufacturing facilities, 88 U.S./Canada branches and distributorships, as well as manufacturing plants in Brazil and France. Its annual sales exceeded $150 million.
The Fruehauf Trailer Company was the leading trailer manufacturer in the United States, and continued to grow because of its industry-leading products. However, Fruehauf also purchased competing companies for “distribution, new technology or geographic advantages.” It acquired “Warner in Baltimore, Hobbs in Texas, Strick in the Midwest and the Carter Manufacturing Company of Memphis, Tennessee (with another manufacturing facility in Birmingham, Alabama).”
Its organic growth and acquisitions meant that Fruehauf had 16 manufacturing facilities and over 80 distributorships for parts and service. Its expansion was global; the company opened facilities in Europe, South America and Asia.
Loss of control
As noted above, August Fruehauf died in 1930. After his death, his sons (Harvey, Harry and Roy) had led the company. But by the mid-1960s, all three sons had also died. For the first time since the company’s founding, the Fruehauf family was no longer in charge of the company.
The company’s new management did not adapt successfully to market changes and economic challenges. The company became more diversified and also expanded its operations; however, financial issues led to the sale of company divisions in 1989. The truck trailer unit continued operation as Fruehauf Trailer Corporation.
During the late 1980s a proxy battle to control the company took place. This led to the company filing for bankruptcy protection in 1997. Prior to the bankruptcy, additional pieces of Fruehauf were sold. On March 17, 1997, Fruehauf’s U.S. trailer manufacturing and sales units were sold to Wabash National. The company’s international divisions (in France, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand) became independent and continued to operate under the Fruehauf name.
The Fruehauf Trailer Company is gone in the United States. However, the Fruehauf brand continues to be recognized for innovation, quality, craftsmanship and dedication to excellence.
August Fruehauf was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2017. As stated on the Hall’s website, “The Fruehauf Trailer Company, established by Fruehauf 1918, quickly grew into the largest semi-trailer manufacturer in the world while introducing groundbreaking innovations in semi-trailer technology.”
Providing an overview of Fruehauf and the company he founded, the Hall’s website states, “One of Fruehauf’s major contributions was the automatic fifth wheel hitch in 1926, a design that is still in use around the world. He also constructed the first refrigerated semi-trailer. August Fruehauf would pass away in 1930, but even after his death, the company continued to grow. Through hard work, tenacity and ingenuity, August Fruehauf helped launch a global industry from Detroit.”
In summary, I asked Ruth Ann Fruehauf to provide a statement about Gus Fruehauf and his company. She wrote, “The Fruehauf Trailer Company was centered around quality products that lasted. Many vintage trailers are still available and collected by aficionados in truck collecting groups. The international Fruehauf companies that still exist in France, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom are still in operation and continuing the Fruehauf legacy of producing quality products. We are working to unite these various businesses for global benefit.” She ended by stating, “August Fruehauf created a unique solution for a customer in 1914 and in so doing, created the semi-trailer and launched an industry that is still alive today. His solutions-oriented approach can provide lessons to all.”