Kenworth Trucks – a Humble Beginning

Kenworth Trucks originally started when a man named Edgar Worthington who was merely the manager of a building that his mother owned, took an interest in one of the struggling tenants.

Making the Transition from Tenant to Owner That tenant was the Gerlinger Motor Car Company, and the company wasn’t doing very well. But then, it put out its first truck in 1915, which was the Gersix, a six-cylinder truck. Two years later Worthington bought the company, which at the time had two offices: Seattle and Portland, and renamed it the Gersix Motor Company, and partnered with Fredrick Kent. Kent’s son Harry, took it over from him in 1919, and in 1922 the Gersix truck did well and they sold 53 of them in 1922. In 1923 they incorporated and named the company Kenworth after their two last names. Thus Kenworth trucks were born.

Kenworth Trucks: The Early Years

The new Kenworth Trucks did fairly well over the next two years, selling at least two trucks a week. Custom made trucks were their hallmark product. As time went on, the company grew even more profitable with higher production levels. To save on costs, Kenworth decided to start making their trucks in Canada to save duty charges. By 1929 they were so successful that they needed to open a new factory in Seattle, Washington and Harry Kent became the president of the company.

Kenworth Trucks: The Depression Years

During the Great Depression between 1930 and 1932, the company had its own financial issues, but they tried to stay afloat and did that by starting to make fire trucks in 1932. Their custom fire trucks made all the fire chiefs want one because Kenworth could input the ideas they wanted into the trucks, while other companies either could not or would not do it for them, making innovation their saving factor.

Kenworth Trucks: After the Depression

Once the Depression was finally subsiding, Kenworth started to do better again and was the first trucking company in the U.S. to put diesel engines in their vehicles as standard equipment. This worked well for its customers since at the time diesel was much cheaper than gasoline. Kenworth also made and sold its very first sleeper cab in 1933, and two years later it started making some of its truck parts using aluminum.

As the next couple of years came and went, Kenworth came out with its bubble nose cab over engine truck, and it managed to sell 226 trucks in 1940. Sadly though, Harry Kent died in 1937 and Phil Johnson became company president.

Kenworth Trucks: The War Years

During the WWII Kenworth did its patriotic duty and produced 430, 4-ton heavyweight trucks, and then another 1,500 more, making it a high producer for the military. They were custom made for the Army and came with cranes, winches, cutting, welding and flood lights. Kenworth also made non-truck items for the war effort such as parts for the B-17 and B-29 airplanes.

Kenworth Trucks: The After War Years

In 1944 the company lost another president with the death of Phil Johnson and was bought by Paul Pigott of the Pacific Car and Foundry (PACCAR) and the following year it made 485 military trucks and 427 civilian commercial trucks, raising that to 705 commercial trucks the next year. The company was then making trucks for Hawaii and by 1950, it was so successful it was able to start distributing its vehicles to 27 locations outside the US, making its foreign profits up to 40 percent of its sales.

Kenworth was making 30 different models by this time as well and in 1951 it was rewarded with a huge deal with the Arabian American Oil Company They sold 1,700 trucks and had a huge role in helping to develop the oil reserves in the middle east. By the year 1955 it was producing trucks in British Columbia and formed the Canadian subsidiary: Canadian Kenworth Limited.

Kenworth Trucks: The Later 50s and Beyond

Kenworth officially became the Kenworth Motor Truck Company in 1956 and was producing its newly designed 923 model trucks that had a drop frame, thus making the chassis shorter and lighter. Their innovation continued as always and by the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations Kenworth Trucks came out with their K100 cabover style truck that offered long haul truckers some luxuries in the form of double beds, a closet, a fridge and even a hot plate. However, they didn’t sacrifice the trucker’s safety or the reliability of the vehicle.

In 1979, Kenworth was picked to carry a high resolution spectrometer magnet which was 140 feet long, weighed 107 tons, was 18 and a half feet wide and 13 and a half feet high. It needed to be transported from Illinois to California and Kenworth built one of its custom trailers to do the job. The trip got lots of media coverage, especially when they had to take it up the 8,640 feet tall Laramie Summit while there was 60 mile an hour winds blowing. It was a very dramatic. The trip took 19 days.

Kenworth Trucks: The 1980s

Once again Kenworth displayed their innovation, coming out with the T600A truck which combined a traditional slope shaped front with a setback front axle, making it more maneuverable while not sacrificing the driver’s comfort. Plus, it had aerodynamic features that saved nearly a quarter on the cost of fuel. Because of the slope hood the trucks earned the moniker “anteater”. During the 80s Kenworth also produced the T800 truck that had a setback front axle to make it more maneuverable, but it was also able to carry very heavy loads and was versatile enough to work on or off the highway. That decade also brought the C500B construction series of trucks, as well as the T400A tractor which had even more fuel savings capabilities. By the end of the decade, Kenworth came out with the W900L truck, which had a long nose and extended hood and was extremely popular.

Kenworth Trucks: the 1990s

Kenworth Trucks kept its innovative spirit in the 90s by producing the new T884 truck with two steering axles in the front and was and ideal mixer truck, making it easier to make turns. Plus, it had all wheel drive, making it perfect for off road use in construction areas. Kenworth also got another special transport deal and moved the SR71 Blackbird Spy Plane from the Mojave Dessert to Seattle, Washington, which took a lot of coordination and required specially made vehicles to hold the wings and fuselage sections. The plane was being installed in the Museum of Flight.

Kenworth introduced the Kenworth Driver’s Board in 1992 to help give its input into future trucks. They went to trade shows, did surveys and drove all over the US. The 90s also brought the invention of the K300 cabover and the company’s B series trucks. Kenworth also helped to promote road safety by funding a special program called “Sharing the Road.” By this time Kenworth had added production plants in Washington, and Ohio and were adding another new and innovative truck: the t600 Aero Cab. It offered more space for the drivers and their cargo, as well as the OEM Sleeper truck called the Studio Sleeper that had a huge sleeper couch, 30 percent more storage space, two closets, shelves, a table and there was even an option to pay extra to get a TV installed.

In 1996, the T2000 truck came out and Kenworth had a premium style 350,000 mile warranty with service only needed every 25,000 miles versus 10 or 15,000 in standard contracts due to better maintenance and upgrades in technology.

Kenworth Trucks: the 2000s and beyond

In 2000, Kenworth came out with what they called the T604 Technology Truck, which had every available safety feature from the times from collision avoiding radar to GPS, LED lights, and external cameras to prevent them from hitting anything. By 2007, Kenworth was making trucks called the C540 to be sold in Australia, which was a mining series truck and the next year the company made a commitment to the greening of the world by getting certified by the International Environmental Management Standard certification. The company hit a milestone two years later when the 40,000th Kenworth Truck was built. Since then, Kenworth is continuing its innovative production standards and dedications to excellence as it continues to expand in the trucking industry.