A History of Tow Trucks

You probably don't appreciate heavy-duty tow trucks until your commercial vehicle gets in an accident or breaks down on the road. You may feel frustrated, but not helpless, because you know a towing company can recover your vehicle and transport it to a repair shop.

An Idea Is Born

The year was 1916, and people were driving cars such as Cadillacs and Ford Model Ts. Ernest Holmes, a mechanic from Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, needed to recover a Ford Model T. Holmes' old professor had lost control of the car and drove off the road and into a creek. It took ten men, eight hours and a lot of blocks and rope to save the car.

After this difficult situation, Ernest Holmes began to develop a simpler method to recover vehicles. He and two friends designed a crane and pulley system. They attached it to a 1913 Cadillac, a car that was highly regarded because it was one of the first to start with ignition lighting rather than hand cranking.

However, Holmes' towing system wasn't stable enough to recover vehicles. Not deterred, Holmes added outriggers to support and stabilise his new invention. He earned a patent for it in 1919.

The Indomitable Tow Truck

Since 1916, tow trucks have made vehicle recovery easier. Before their invention, recovering a vehicle took many hours and lots of manpower. Today, one qualified professional can use his or her tow truck to rescue vehicles in the most precarious of situations. Tow trucks can remove vehicles from the highway or even lift them out of a ditch.

Next time your vehicle breaks down or experiences an accident, feel grateful for the amazing invention of the tow truck and the many tow truck professionals who make vehicle recovery possible.

Tow Trucks Improve

Holmes' first tow truck was the Holmes 680. At $680, it was too pricey for buyers, so he created the Holmes 485, which he sold for $485. He mounted it on a 1913 Locomobile, a steam-powered automobile with a six-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission.

When the United States entered World War II, the Holmes Company built vehicles for military use. In 1973, the company was sold. Today, it's known as Miller Industries. Meanwhile, the tow truck continued its development. Manufacturers developed a variety of different types of towing equipment to meet different needs. These include:

Hook and chain: chains loop around the car's axle or frame and a boom winch lifts it. This equipment can only work for cars with steel bumpers without all-wheel drive, or it will damage the bumpers or drivetrain.

Wheel lift: one of the most common types of towing equipment, where a yoke fits under the car's wheels and lifts part of the car off the ground. Boom: a boom winch attaches to vehicles and lifts them up. Ernest Holmes would have appreciated this equipment in his time.

Flatbed: the truck tows a flatbed behind it. The towed car sits on the flatbed above the ground.

Integrated: contains both a boom and wheel lift. Throughout the years, manufacturers have developed tow trucks in many sizes and models. Heavy-duty tow trucks are especially needed because their high-powered engines and large frames allow them to tow heavy trucks and commercial vehicles.

If you need to tow a heavy commercial vehicle, make sure you call a towing company that specialises in heavy duty vehicle towing. They have the necessary equipment and training to tow your vehicle.


Tow trucks quietly go about their work helping people every day. Have you ever thought about what life would be like without them? One hundred years ago, they didn't even exist yet.

Contact Us