The History of UK Haulage
The History of UK Haulage

How much do you know about trucker history? Maybe it wasn’t your favourite subject at school, but history is important to help us understand where we came from, understand the ways in which we have learned and also not to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Going decade-by-decade, let’s dive into the history of the truck, where it came from and how the lorry drivers of tomorrow will steer us into the future.

The Original Semi-Truck


In 1898, the first semi-truck was developed by Alexander Winton who held residence in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. The vehicle was sold the following year in 1899, Winton looked into the business of “horseless carriages” which he considered to be the future of moving goods. He eventually became a historic car maker who had an influence all over the world, even today.

The roaring 20s and beyond


As supplies became more and more in demand in the early 1900s, UK haulage saw a massive 300% growth inbetween 1903 and 1924. Up until the Second World War the UK’s GDP grew steadily, with a sturdy economic growth taking place with many exports and imports being moved across the country with goods, food and supplies for the ever-growing consumer class.

By 1925 there were well over 300,000 goods vehicles travelling across the UK. As the technology developed various models of vehicles came into place. Beyond your average Heavy Goods Vehicle, vans were developed to transport much lighter goods. Able to travel in some areas that simply weren’t designed to handle the size of a truck.

In 1922, a transport union was formed, which consisted of 14 various unions with many more joining as years passed. Before becoming what we know today as the RHA, it was named The Road Haulage Association Organisations.

Thanks to haulage, the development of properties saw a rapid increase as it became much easier to move goods for construction such as cement and bricks. This also provided a much cheaper solution. House building in 1925 was set to be around 100,000 homes that year, however, in 1935 this had tripled to around 330,000.

The 1930s and 1940s “during the war”


During the course of the Second World War many of the manufacturing plants were converted into development branches for military equipment, weapons and machinery. Some were even altered to produce some of the vehicles that helped to win the war. The technology that had only served to move goods was also being used through one of the biggest points of conflict in history.

When the war came to an end, not only had technology further developed – but there was now more demand for haulage than ever before. The decades that followed in the haulage industry were considered to be a “Golden age” by many professionals.

The 1960s and 1970s “The Golden Age”


As the 60s began, over 600,000 lorry drivers were operating in the UK and this meant the country’s value saw a massive growth with the economy thriving. Cheaper imports became a big booster for the industry and the demand from the public for parcel delivery was on the rise more than ever before.
At the time, the biggest vehicle on the roads allowed was an articulated truck of 24 tonnes, rather than the 44 tonnes that we see most commonly in the 21st century. By 1964 this maximum weight was altered to 32 tonnes as 24 tonnes was becoming very restrictive for the hauliers trying to match stock demands on deliveries.

Protests in 78-79


The bitter winter of 78-79 saw the Winter of Discontent, which meant there were strikes across the nation from many unions, with the demand that employees be treated with more respect and gain better pay for their efforts. Lorry drivers were among those who played an essential role in the strikes, as much of the UK’s supply and demand was met through haulage. As they held a strike, the country was bought to a halt which meant deliveries for many goods, supplies, foods as well as fuel were brought to a standstill. That January, truckers accepted a deal which saw a rise of up to 20% which was £1 less than the unions had demanded as strikes began. However, this was accepted and the nation resumed trade as always.



Due to globalisation and the logistics revolution there were some significant changes to the industry over the course of the 1980s. The economy thrived under a newly established conservative Government – even with this in mind, unemployment increased during the decade which was reflected in manufacturing and logistics. Many drivers at the time had to accept pay cuts or lose their jobs entirely.

One driver reflecting on these times said: "I call them ’the good old days’ when you had T-forms, CMRs and trip permits; when you HAD TO stop at a border and do something. The days when there were no mobile phones, sat-navs, laptops and GPS to keep tabs on you, because you were the boss."

Road safety was developing into an ever-growing concern which lead to many further precautions on the roads. Compared to 90 fatal accidents which took place in 1975, 1985 saw 63 which were associated with trucks.  Tachographs became a compulsory requirement for truck drivers under these safety terms in 1985, which is what many believed to be the key factor in stopping many accidents on the roads.



Computers were not yet a part of everyday life yet, but throughout the 1990s computers found their way into offices as a much more efficient means of filing than with physical documents at hand. This wireless tech played a larger role in logistics as time went by, with the EU endorsing the technology and demonstrating the high performance of logistics companies who integrated computers to their internal process.

For many hauliers, this meant more accurate records with time-keeping and deliveries and easier to process orders for the parcel industry as records were much more accessible and online shopping began to develop throughout the decade. With all these programs, other precautions for truck drivers like speed limiters were developed and introduced as a means of adding further safety precautions.
21st century


In the 00s, supply and demand only continued to grow. Online shopping became a part of everyday life, with many supermarkets introducing online grocery shopping making foodstocks more accessible than ever before for the general public and meaning a big increase in available work for couriers across the country.

This meant the need for Light Goods Vehicles was thriving more than ever before, meanwhile, Heavy Goods Vehicles saw a decline in their demand meaning many truckers moved on from operating with a lorry to handling their own courier service.

With firms like Amazon, E-bay and Argos moving most of their goods through the web it’s easy to understand why LGVs and van drivers were thriving in the amount of work available as HGVs saw reductions unless they were part of a fleet or chain.

Present day


The haulage industry will forever play a significant role in the UK’s economy, no matter the changes the country may face. Currently, the industry brings in £124bn to Britain’s economy and compared to the early days of even the golden age – this would be inconceivable to the drivers of old. With 89% of the UK’s goods being moved by road, including 98% of agricultural and food stocks along with consumer products.  2.54 million workers put their efforts and contributions into the haulage industry (the 5th largest in the country).

Hauliers have continued concerns for the future of their career with the introduction of self-driving and more environment-efficient means of transport taking over, along with the concerns regarding Brexit, international trade and how it will effect the average haulier who operates on an international scale.

Speaking on the matter, the RHA said:"A no-deal Brexit will create massive problems for international hauliers – whether UK or mainland Europe based. For supply chains, customs controls and the controlling of lorry movements the key issues. The Dover Strait handles 10,000 lorries each day and processing them through the port is currently seamless. Should there be no deal and customs controls are established for UK hauliers at every European border, the knock-on effect will be crippling."
Despite the uncertain futures and the obstacles the nation faces, the wheel keeps on turning and the industry shows no signs of stopping.

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