Truck Wars: The Birth of 4WD | History

NARRATOR: Despite the growing popularity of trucks in the early 1900s, buyers were caught in a quagmire as infrastructure lagged We like to joke that, at that time, you know, there were two kinds of roads– either bad roads or no roads at all

It was not uncommon for vehicles to get stuck, even in good weather And then, of course, in wet weather, it was like driving through quicksand NARRATOR: Autos were stuck in the world of two-wheel drive, with rear wheels pushing them forward as front wheels were left clear to steer But then a pair of blacksmiths from Clintonville, Wisconsin, had an unfortunate episode at their part-time job Otto Zachow and William Besserdich sold REO cars

And they were driving a REO car, and it got stuck The only way they could get it unstuck is William drove it backwards And that gave him an inspiration– powering all four wheels NARRATOR: It's an idea that would become a defining feature of trucks forever– if they could pull it off It's like to trucks in one

You have the regular drive going out the rear But then you have to have a transfer case that also sends power to a front axle And that front axle has to steer Zachow and Besserdich are credited with coming up with a universal ball joint that would allow the front wheels to steer and simultaneously receive power from the drive shaft, which was the breakthrough that made four-wheel drive technology practical NARRATOR: Zachow and Besserdich's double wide joint, patented in 1908, became the centerpiece of their groundbreaking new passenger car, dubbed the Battleship

The Battleship became the flagship of the blacksmiths' new car business, the aptly named Four Wheel Drive Company, or FWD And eventually, FWD caught the eye of a very powerful customer The Army ordered a fleet of military trucks with FWD technology It would get a trial by fire in 1917 FWD produced more than 24,000 trucks for World War I

Four-wheel drive was absolutely indispensable to the success of vehicles during World War I, because the conditions there were just terrible The rain was constant The mud was everywhere And of course, it's literally a battlefield that you're having to drive across, in some cases So it was a great advantage to have that during the war

NARRATOR: FWD returned from Europe as a conquering hero The world war had given this company a big victory in the truck wars And with such innovative founders, they might have established a dynasty But there was one problem Zachow and Besserdich both sold out their interests soon after the Four Wheel Drive Company was established

Otto Zachow returned to his machine shop for the rest of his life NARRATOR: Although the Four Wheel Drive Company still exists today under the name FWD Seagrave, they aren't a household name for one simple reason The brand was built really around a single technology, and that has never proven a long term way to build a brand Everybody could adopt that technology So what's left to hang your hat on? NARRATOR: But one look at the modern truck landscape, and the impact of that one simple idea is undeniable

The legacy of the Four Wheel Drive Company is immense I can't imagine– and I bet you can't either– a world without four wheel drive

Source: Youtube