Baseball, apple pie, and pickup trucks – three symbols of the down-home American heartland. Americans tend to love all things American and the pickup truck is no exception. The very first pickup truck debuted, thanks to Henry Ford, in 1925. Although a bit lengthy for today’s marketing standards, Ford described it as a “Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body.” It was surprisingly similar to current pickups with an adjustable tailgate, a large cargo box, and heavy-duty springs in the rear.
Throughout the United States’ short history, the pickup truck gained popularity and continued to evolve. Three years later, Ford replaced the Model T with the Model A – which was the first closed-cab pickup and included new features like roll-up side windows and a safety glass windshield. Capable of a whopping 40 horsepower (impressive at the time), the Model A sported a four-cylinder engine and three-speed transmission.
By 1931, Chevrolet stepped up and offered its first pickup model in an effort to compete with Ford. But Ford wasn’t going anywhere. They countered the following year by releasing an even more powerful pickup with 65-horsepower and the Ford flathead V8 engine, a strategy that proved profitable to say the least. By 1936, there were three million Ford trucks on the road and the pickup led the industry in sales.
When the Great Depression hit, farmers needed to scale back and could no longer afford a truck for their farms and a car for their families. Thus, the need for a passenger-ready pickup was born and an Australian Body designer at Ford Australia designed the “coupe utility” — the precursor to today’s full cab pickups by marrying the front of a car body to the rear of a pickup body. The result was successful worldwide and because they were designed for work, American banks didn’t hesitate to loan farmers money to buy them. Sales skyrocketed and the modern pickup became a staple of growing America.
While pickups were prevalent all over the country, Texans became particularly fond of them. Calling them “rancheros” because of their importance to Texas horse ranches, the state is sometimes referred to as “the land of pickup trucks.” And rightfully so. The state of Texas actually offers a lower tax on pickup registration than it does on any other vehicle.
Portrayed as a rough and rugged symbol of the ultra-masculine American man, pickups began to make appearances in Hollywood movies from neo-Westerns to the preferred vehicle of tough guys like Clint Eastwood in “Every Which Way But Loose,” and John Travolta in “Urban Cowboy.” And when a symbol of America emerges, politics are right behind, ready to exploit it. In a campaign speech, presidential nominee hopeful Fred Thompson even described his opponent’s faults by saying, “He hasn’t spent enough time in a pickup truck,” suggesting his opponent had trouble connecting with the “real” America. Even President George W. Bush – a proud Texan – has been observed driving around his ranch in a pickup.
Pickup trucks are no less popular today. Car companies find that while car sales in the U.S. are less stable, the pickup truck holds its own. Even companies like Isuzu now offer only high-performance pickup trucks (two models – the i-290 and i-370) and a single SUV model. Although people tend to love their SUVs and their flashy sports cars, pickup trucks continue to hold on as one of the best selling American vehicles. And from what we surmise, apple pie isn’t going anywhere either.