Fleet Management & Forklift Safety Blog

Forklift History 101 – The Evolution of Your Fleet

Posted by Thelma Marshall on Apr 26, 2017 3:00:00 AM

This is part two of our forklift evolution blog, which examines how advancement in equipment and telematics have improved productivity and safety in the warehouse.

Millions of forklifts are in use today, but what you see doesn’t resemble the original model. The earliest forklifts were created out of cast iron wheels and wrought iron axles and resembled modern-day dollies. Safety was definitely not a priority. oldforklift.png

As time passed, demands increased and injuries occurred. Forklift features began to evolve — like the addition of backrest and cages to provide the driver more protection. 

Here’s a quick look at the early evolution:

  • 1887 – The first fork-truck was built and could lift a load a few inches off the ground; however due to weakness and lack of availability, it wasn’t widely used.
  • 1909 – A steel commercial version was developed but was deemed “not a proper lift-truck.”
  • 1917 – Clark Company introduced the Tructractor, the first type of seated counterbalanced vehicle for use in warehouses and factories.
  • 1920 – Hydraulic lift parts were added to make lifting loads easier. Over time electronics were slowly added to fork-trucks, especially those making use of small mounted cranes that allowed lifting material into truck beds.
  • 1923 – The first true forklift was introduced after a vertical-lifting cantilever or mast was announced. Engineers at Yale University are credited for building an electric truck that could lift the forks and load up via the mast. It made use of a ratchet and pinion system to do this.

Modern forklift advances

The largest advancements in forklift technology include improved forklift power sources and integrated computer systems.

  • In the past, fork trucks ran on gasoline. Today a large percentage are electric.
  • Batteries now have enough power to run for hours, and the electric lift motor is strong enough to lift very heavy loads.
  • Integrated computer systems started out as simple RFID chips installed under the operator’s seat, allowing operators to use barcode readers to scan inventory. They evolved to include impact detectors to send alerts when an impact occurred.

Telematics continue the evolution

Advancements with integrated computer systems provide a wide range of abilities and forklift telematic data, which facilitates proactive decisions.

Here are some examples.

TotalTrax’s CommandPulse DX

CommandPulse DX provides a looking-glass view of what’s happening across many areas of the warehouse. By setting KPIs, it provides a quick view of potential hotspots that need attention.


Safety Checklists

Safety Checklists, required by OSHA, provide data on the operability of the forklift. Telematics tracks safety-checklist completion and alerts managers of failures needing attention.


CommandPulse RX gives managers the ability to analyze data more closely. The reporting tool makes it easy to filter, chart, and pivot data to better examine utilization, activity, impacts, and safety concerns by operator or forklift.


Forklifts today complete tasks that would have been inconceivable decades ago. They are designed to be safer, with improved visibility and stability, and are protected by advances in advanced telematic systems.

Topics: Forklift, automated data collection, fleet telematics, safety improvements

Read More