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It’s easy to take the things we have in our modern world for granted. We forget that generations of people had to live and work without the technology and conveniences we enjoy everyday. Sure, this applies to the internet and smartphones- but it also applies to items you may not even think of, like 5th wheel hitches. Have you ever really thought of who invented them and when? How did they evolve? Let’s look into the history right now!

The Invention of 5th Wheel Hitches

The invention of a fifth wheel hitch for motorized trucks is credited to American inventor Charles H. Martin, of the Martin Rocking Fifth Wheel Co. He invented the device in 1915. It was submitted for patent in 1915 and finalized in 1916. The fifth wheel got its name from its original design. A fifth wheel is a hitch that allows the driver to connect a cargo attachment to the back of a large vehicle, like a tractor or truck. 

Martin’s Inspiration 

The idea didn’t magically come to Martin in 1915, though. They were initially invented for horse-drawn carriages in the mid-1850s. Martin’s 5th wheel hitches came from a similar coupling used on four-wheel horse-drawn carriages and wagons. The device allowed the front axle assembly to pivot in the horizontal plane, making turning easier. A wheel would be placed on the rear frame section of the truck, which at the time had only four wheels, making the additional wheel the “fifth wheel”. 

These hitches were originally not a complete circle and were hand forged. When mass production of buggy parts began in the early 1900’s, 5th wheel hitches were among the first products to be made. There were a number of patents awarded for these early designs. Edward and Charles Everett patented a version in 1850, followed by Gutches’ metallic head block and fifth wheel in 1870, and Wilcox’s fifth wheel in 1905.

Modern Implications

The Fruehauf Trailer Corporation helped to make the Martin Rocking 5th Wheel a success by installing them on their popular new semi-trailer design. What makes 5th wheel hitches so important is the ability it gives fleet owners to attach large trailers to tractors easily and safely. This means they also have the freedom to switch out trailers. Without Charles H. Martin’s invention, the modern distribution system would look quite different! A drop-and-hook would not be easy and we wouldn’t have trucking to rely on for all of the goods our modern society loves. 

Today, the fifth wheel refers to the “U” shaped coupling component found on the back of the towing vehicle. This could be a large transport, pickup truck, or semi-truck. Modern fifth wheel hitches allow the trailers to slide into the fifth wheel and lock into it. They are a very reliable unit when maintained and serviced properly. If you’re ready to use a piece that’s been evolving and getting better for over 100 years, order your fifth wheel hitch today!