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Kenworth celebrates century of truck making with special editions

From logging truck beginnings to battery-electric trucks and fuel cell pilots

Kenworth, which began as a maker of logging trucks in 1923, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. (Photo: Kenworth)

Kenworth Truck Co. will spend the next 12 months celebrating its 100th anniversary — from its beginnings as a logging truck company that made diesel engines standard to a lineup that includes battery-powered electric trucks and could offer hydrogen-powered fuel cells.

The Paccar Inc. brand — Kenworth became part of Paccar in 1946 — has produced more than 1.3 million trucks in the U.S. and Canada with the KW badge on the grill. Harry W. Kent and Edgar K. Worthington incorporated the Gersix Motor Co. as Kenworth in 1923. The K in Kent and the W in Worthington formed the Kenworth bug that has evolved over the decades. 

The first Kenworth logo consisting of the first letter in its founders’ names. (Photo: Kenworth)

The small Seattle-based manufacturer produced 78 six-cylinder, gasoline-powered trucks in its first year. Since then, Kenworth has produced Class 5 to Class 8 models and super heavy-duty trucks, including the C500 6×6 with its gross combination weight rating of 1 million pounds. 

An early Kenworth water truck works on the streets of Seattle. (Photo: Kenworth)

A short list of centenarians

The list is short of truck manufacturers to reach the century mark:  

  • Gottlieb Daimler built the first truck in 1896, converting a horse-drawn cart. 
  • Autocar, known for its severe-duty and refuse trucks, came along a year later in Pittsburgh. It did not focus on trucks until exiting the car business in 1911. 
  • Mack Trucks was founded in 1900 by Jack and Gus Mack in Brooklyn, New York. 
  • Navistar, originally International Harvester, was born in 1902 in Chicago.
  • Engine maker Cummins Inc. was founded in 1919 in Columbus, Indiana.

Volvo Trucks reaches the 100-year milestone in 2028. 

Kenworth's mockup of its SuperTruck III prototype planned for 2027.
A rendering of Kenworth’s SuperTruck III design for 2027. The eventual prototype featuring advanced technologies for fuel saving through aerodynamics is co-funded with the Department of Energy. (Photo: Kenworth)

Kenworth first to offer diesel engine as standard equipment

Kenworth was first among truck OEMs to offer a diesel engine as standard equipment in 1933. They grew in commercial popularity after World War II when the government snapped up every diesel it could find for the war effort.

“Kenworth has remained true to its core values since its founding,” Kevin Baney, Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice president, said in a news release. “We’ve achieved many amazing accomplishments in our first 100 years. But there’s more work to be done.”

The company ushered in fuel-saving aerodynamic design in 1985 with the T600. Its successor, the T680, is the company’s flagship. The T680 gets a special edition this year. 

Kenworth T680 and W900 special editions

The T680 Special Edition is available in the 76-inch mid- and high-roof sleeper configurations. It features a black interior with legacy red stitching accents throughout the cab and sleeper. 

The package also includes a Kenworth 100-branded GT703 seat with red accents, a brushed platinum dash and door trim with the Kenworth 100 logo stitched into the sleeper back wall. The special edition stands out from the base model with a black onyx grille and side air intake.

“This Kenworth T680 Signature Edition is an excellent choice for both owner operators and for fleets seeking an outstanding reward truck for its top drivers,” said Jim Walenczak, Kenworth assistant general manager for sales and marketing.

The company is also introducing four new paint colors on Class 8 and medium duty trucks: Century Platinum, Century Black Red, Century Red and Century Gold.

Kenworth is offering special editions of the W900 and T680 as part of its 100th anniversary.
The venerable W900 that was introduced in 1961 (left) and the flagship T680 get special editions for 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Kenworth brand. (Photo: Kenworth)

The venerable W900 — introduced in 1961 — also gets special treatment. The manufacturer has sold all 900 serial-numbered limited editions, “so they will definitely become a showcase vehicle for owners who want a piece of Kenworth history,” Walenczak said.

Kenworth introduced a possible replacement for the W900 three years ago. The W900 has a future as long as it can keep up with toughening emission regulations, officials said. 

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 Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.