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'Fruehauf: The First Name In Transportation' Exhibit Opens At Detroit Historical Museum


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Forbes / June 6, 2015

A new exhibit, "Fruehauf: The First Name in Transportation," opens on June 7 at the Detroit Historical Museum, telling the story of an automotive company that changed the transportation landscape.

Growing up with the last name “Fruehauf” made Ruth Fruehauf feel responsible for her family’s legacy. “When people recognize my last name, they always ask me what happened to the company,” she said. “When I start telling them little nuggets of what happened, they are always on the edge of their chair, and they always say, ‘My gosh, this should be a book.’”

Now it is a book called “Singing Wheels: August Fruehauf & The History of the Fruehauf Trailer Company.” And starting on June 7, 2015, a display of Fruehauf artifacts and innovations will open at the Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.

The exhibit, entitled “Fruehauf: The First Name in Transportation,” runs through June 2016. Ruth Fruehauf will appear at the exhibit’s opening on June 7 at 2:00 pm to present “a historical overview of the display exhibition.”

In a phone interview, Fruehauf described the origins of the book, and of the company itself. “When my mother died, I found thirty boxes of my father’s office archives just stored in her attic that probably hadn’t been gone through since he died in 1965,” she said.

Those archives revealed a remarkable history of engineering innovation, including many firsts in the transportation industry. “There were over 1,000 patents for Fruehauf Trailer Company, but there are over 150 Fruehauf patents for military inventions alone. I had no idea that Fruehauf was so involved in defense work.”

Heavy-duty Fruehauf trailers were designed for World War II and the Korean War, many with special purpose provisions. “Completely armored trailers wore radar units. Trailers wore anti-aircraft missiles and served as command centers,” said Fruehauf. “There were even trailers designed to go out into the front lines and tow back disabled tanks.”

A big discovery in the archives surprised Fruehauf. “We traced the invention of the shipping container to Fruehauf Executive VP Keith Tatlinger,” she recounted. “Malcolm McLean, a customer, came to my dad with a problem in 1956. Everyone was pilfering booze from his shipments.” Tatlinger developed the enclosed shipping container in standard dimensions, an innovation that revolutionized and simplified global shipping. “My dad actually financed Sea-Land, so that was a huge discovery for us,” said Fruehauf. (After a series of mergers and acquisitions, Sea-Land was operated as Horizon Lines, Inc. The company is currently in the process of ceasing operations.)

Fruehauf has compiled the information that she discovered in her father’s archive, as well as numerous other materials relating to the family business, on a website, http://www.singingwheels.com. The companion book, “Singing Wheels,” is a 130-page collection of images and history about the business, and is available for $29.95 (softcover)/$39.95 (hardcover) at the Fruehauf Trailer Historical Society website.

Related reading: http://detroithistorical.org/detroit-historical-museum/exhibitions/special-exhibitions/fruehauf-first-name-transportation


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Detroit Exhibit Celebrates Invention of Semi-Trailer

Transport Topics / June 8, 2015

An exhibit has opened in Detroit that celebrates the invention of the semi-trailer a century ago.

The Detroit Historical Museum on June 8 opened “Fruehauf: The First Name in Transportation.”

It recognizes the creation of August Fruehauf, a German blacksmith and wagon maker, who along with Otto Neumann built the first semi-trailer in 1914 for Detroit businessman Frederic Sibley, who wanted a trailer that could be towed behind a Ford Model-T to transport a boat.

After that proved successful, Sibley asked for trailers that he could use in his lumber yard.

As interest grew, Fruehauf launched Fruehauf Trailer Co. in 1918.

Businesses seized on the idea for hauling goods, and for decades, Fruehauf had a thriving enterprise.

Wabash National acquired the retail network and other assets of Fruehauf in 1997.

The Detroit Historical Museum exhibit features photos and memorabilia from the Fruehauf family's collection, including innovations to the trucking industry.

A restored 1916 Fruehauf trailer and matching Ford Model-T are on display.

The exhibit, developed in partnership with the Fruehauf Trailer Historical Society, will be open until June 2016.

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