We think we face challenges today. But as you look over our coverage of this year’s Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association convention, imagine what trailer manufacturers were dealing with when they gathered together 75 years ago for the very first TTMA convention.

To start with, the trailer manufacturing industry had tried organizing 25 years earlier. A dozen trailer manufacturers first met back in 1916 to form a trade association. In doing so, they faced several daunting tasks. First, they had to get a trade association off the ground. Second, they had to convince their customers that a trailer towed by a horseless carriage was superior to using wagons pulled by horses.

Third, they needed to convince governments at all levels to build roads for the trucks and trailers to travel. To do that, trailer industry advocates teamed up with groups of automobile owners to push for more road construction—and then they fought with those same groups over how the roads should be paid for. Some things just don’t change.

Nevertheless, this nascent group of trailer manufacturer succeeded in forming the Trailer Manufacturers Association of America in 1919. A name like that should have appealed to any patriotic trailer manufacturer, and the group did begin to prosper—until the Great Depression struck and the group grew dormant.

America slowly began to emerge from the Depression, and trailer production began to grow. Nothing like the 300,000 trailers that manufacturers built in 2015, 24,000 trailers was a pretty big deal in 1939—triple what they were six years earlier. Consumers were beginning to spend. Automobile production in 1939 was up 40% from the year before.

The American economy appeared to be coming up roses, but in Europe, it was coming up guns. The German army shocked Europe with blitzkrieg—or lightning war. As the name implies, it was warfare that relied on speed and agility.

And it relied on trailers.

In December 1940—a year before Japan’s surprise attack plunged the United States into World War II, Franklin Roosevelt gave a radio address in which he declared that the United States would be the “arsenal of democracy” and would supply weapons to help fight Nazi aggression.

It was a wakeup call for the industry’s newly formed Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association. Trailer manufacturers had met in June of 1940 to start the process. And as the new association was taking shape, the role of trailers became increasingly valuable as America moved closer to war.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the entire focal point of the U S economy was to produce goods and materials to support the war effort. Trailer manufacturers recognized that standards were needed so that goods built by one manufacturer could mesh with products built by another. Manufacturing efficiencies were mandatory. Reliability of equipment really was a matter of life and death, especially when used to get vital supplies to the battlefield.

Because the war dominated America when TTMA began, the association held its first four conventions in Washington DC. By contrast, the most recent TTMA convention was held in a resort in Amelia Island, Florida.

In a way, the goals of TTMA are much the same now as they were 75 years ago. Customers are no longer in a warzone—it merely seems that way sometimes. But developing higher standards is still a major goal. Lives are still at stake—the lives of motorists now instead of soldiers. Advocating better highways continues to be a goal—trailers originally bogged down in mud but now bog down in traffic. And dealing with the government continues to be another TTMA role—just as it was in the association’s early years. Back then, if you wanted to buy a trailer, you had to get permission from the government. That’s because the War Production Board was making sure that as many trailers as needed went to supply the troops. 

Congratulations to TTMA, and thanks for 75 years of service.

As part of its 75th convention, TTMA passed out a new book titled “Truck by Trailer: a History of the Truck Trailer Manufacturing Industry” written by John Conley. Most of the information on this page is based on his research. Copies of the book remain available for purchase through the TTMA website (www.trucktrailer.org).