Historic Truck Brands


Oshkosh Truck was founded by William R. Besserdich and Bernhard A. Mosling in 1917. The two men held patents in 1914 and 1915 for improvements on four-wheel-drive capability. 

Besserdich and Mosling approached several established automobile manufacturers–including Ford, Packard, and Studebaker–about using their designs to produce a four-wheel-drive vehicle. After a series of rejections, they decided to start their own company. 

Handling the business end of the operation, Mosling sold stock in the new company, raising US$250,000 in capital. Meanwhile, master engineer Besserdich was busy coming up with a prototype vehicle design. 

In May of 1917, the Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company, located in Clintonville, Wisconsin, was incorporated. At this point it’s worth clarifying the ‘duplex’ name, because there were two other companies of the time with ‘duplex’ in their titles. The word that’s now used more frequently to describe radio communication with two-direction simultaneous speech, seems to have preceded ‘four-wheel-drive’, but with the same meaning.

Besserdich was the new company’s president and Mosling was listed as its manager and secretary. The prototype vehicle was a four-cylinder, three-speed, 1.4-ton truck called Old Betsy and is still in good working order today. The success of Old Betsy’s four-wheel-drive components attracted investors and, since many of the investors were based in Oshkosh, 47 miles south of Clintonville, the company relocated there in 1917 and changed its name to Oshkosh Motor Truck Manufacturing Company.

This prototype truck was made up from hand-fabricated and adapted parts. Current thinking at Oshkosh is that the radiator came from a Trumbull Cycle-Car and the bonnet, fenders and cowl were adapted from a 1915-16 Buick Model C or D. The wheels were the same type as used on the Buick, so may have come from the same donor car. The wooden cab and bed were fabricated to fit the chassis. 

The first Oshkosh truck to hit the market was the two-ton capacity Model A, at a price of about US$3500. After the Model A, Oshkosh began offering the Model B, which could carry 3.5 tons, and soon afterward, the five-ton Model F. 

The four-wheel-drive ability of Oshkosh trucks quickly set them apart from conventional trucks already on the market. Sales grew from seven trucks in 1918 to 54 in 1919, to 142 in 1920. The company, however, hit a slump immediately following World War One. 

A post-War depression, combined with a government program that donated surplus military trucks to municipalities, resulted in sales that shrank down to only 16 in 1923. In 1922 Mosling replaced Besserdich as company president.

In 1925 Oshkosh introduced the Model H, a powerful truck with a six-cylinder engine. The Model H proved to be useful for road construction and snow plowing, and therefore sold well to municipalities. Sales of the Model H kept Oshkosh in business through the second half of the 1920s. 

The company fell victim to the Great Depression, however and in 1930 was forced to reorganize. It re-emerged as Oshkosh Motor Truck Company. R. W. Mackie was president of the company’s new incarnation, while Mosling concentrated on improving the company’s sales. 

Oshkosh introduced two new trucks in 1932: Models FC and FB, and both had six-cylinder petrol engines. Their transmissions ranged from four- to twelve-speed, and their hauling capacities were up to 20 tons. 

In 1933 Oshkosh unveiled Model TR, their first earthmover with rubber tyres. The four-wheel-drive TR was designed to be used with dozer blades, bottom-dump trailers, or self-loading scrapers. Major buyers of the truck included airport construction contractors, dam and canal builders, and mining companies.

Oshkosh diversified its product line further with the introduction of the J-Series in 1935. The J-Series trucks had capacities from two to three-and-a-half tons, and rounded styling. 

Oshkosh experimented in the 1930s with rear-wheel-drive vehicles, but the fierceness of competition from mass-production companies forced a quick withdrawal from that market. 

Many of Oshkosh’s best customers in the 1930s were located in US states that needed prompt snow-ploughing of roads throughout the winter. In 1930 the prices of Oshkosh trucks ranged from US$2885 to US$13,500.

In 1939 Oshkosh introduced its W-Series truck that marked Oshkosh’s first significant entry into production for military use. The Army Corps of Engineers selected the company’s Model W-700 for a variety of operations, including snow removal from Air Corps runways and general wrecker work. 

Toward the end of World War II, production began on Model W-1600. The W-1600 6×6 was designed for off-road use in oil fields and for pulling heavily laden trailers, and was followed by the W-2200 in 1947. It could run on either petrol or diesel fuel and was virtually unmatched in the size of ploughs or wings with which it could be equipped. 

Oshkosh’s first major defence contract after World War II was for more than 1000 WT-2206 vehicles. The WT-2206 was a heavy-duty truck, capable of ploughing snow at much higher speeds than conventional equipment. The US Air Force purchased the trucks for clearing runways at its northern-most bases. 

Their ability to plow while moving at 55mph (88km/h) was essential for quick-response to the Cold War’s Distant Early Warning system.

In 1955 Oshkosh introduced the petrol-powered Model 50-50: specifically built to carry concrete. It was an immediate hit in the ready-mix-concrete industry on account of its four-wheel-drive ability at work sites and its greater capacity compared with previous models. 

It was quickly followed by the diesel-powered Model 45-55, with a rear axle capacity of 11 tons, higher than the nine-ton capacity of the 50-50’s.

Oshkosh came out with Model 1832 in 1956: the company’s first three-axle ready-mix truck and based on the design of the 50-50. During the 1960s, variations of Model 1832 were created to better contend with higher brake standards and some states’ bridge-formula weight distribution requirements. 

In the early 1960s the F-Series introduced a forward front axle, in contrast with the long front overhang of the 1832. Models with set-back axles evolved into the C-Series. 

As demand increased for larger concrete carriers, F-Series trucks were made in 6×6, 8×6, 10×6 and 10×8 configurations. Eventually, a variation with tandem-drive front axles became the D-Series.

In 1968 Oshkosh began building the US Navy’s MB-5: an aircraft rescue and fire-fighting (ARFF) truck capable of carrying 400 US gallons (1600 litres) of water. The effective volume of the water could expand to 5000 gallons (20,000 litres), when combined with a special concentrated form of extinguishing foam.

The U-30 was designed by Oshkosh, also for the US Air Force, in 1968. The U-30 was an aircraft tow tractor designed to tow the C5A cargo aircraft. Another tow tractor, the smaller MB-2, went into production that year as well. Forty-five of the U-30 and 72 of the MB-2 were built in all. 

In 1971 the Navy ordered 73 MB-1s. The MB-1 was an ARFF similar to the MB-5, but had a capacity of 1000 US gallons (4000 litres). These were followed throughout the 1970s by a progression of larger crash-rescue trucks. These included the P-4 6×6 truck with a 1500-US gallon (6000-litre) capacity; a variation of the P-4 called the P-4A and the gigantic 66-ton P-15. 

The U.S. Air Force bought more than 500 P-4s in the early 1970s. P-4As were also purchased by both the US Navy and the Australian Air Force. 

The P-15 that first appeared in 1977, could carry 6000 US gallons (24,000 litres) of water, expandable to 60,000 US gallons (240,000 litres) of foam fire-suppressant. 

Oshkosh received a US Army contract in 1976, for 744 tractors that could pull heavy equipment trailers and tank trailers. Oshkosh responded with the M-911 Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET). The M-911 MET design was based on the company’s F-Series truck and was still being produced 15 years after the initial contract was awarded. 

In 1979 the US Air Force contracted Oshkosh to deliver more than 100 aircraft loaders, each of which could lift 18 tonnes.

Meanwhile, on the civilian side, Oshkosh introduced a number of new trucks in the 1970s. The B-Series, first produced in 1975, was a forward-axle concrete carrier. The B-Series truck allowed the operator, seated in a one-person cab over the front axle, to drive to the precise location the concrete was to be discharged, and control the chute without leaving the cab. 

Because the ready-mix business provided increasing revenue for Oshkosh, in 1974 a new J-Series) emerged as heir to the F-Series. Two models, the Desert Prince and the Desert Knight, were built for use in oil-field operations. The two six-wheel-drive trucks had 325hp and 485hp diesel engines and balloon tyres to travel over sand. A large number of these trucks were used in the Middle East and in China. 

The R-Series was also launched during this period. The R-Series was a line of heavy-duty 6×4 trucks and tractors designed to withstand the more challenging road conditions of the Middle East, Africa, and Australia. The E-Series was also designed for the international over-the-road truck market. The E-Series cab was located over the engine. Both the E- and R-Series trucks were powered by Caterpillar engines.

Despite relative success of the company’s civilian products, defence contracts continued to provide the majority of Oshkosh’s growth through the 1980s. 

In 1981 Oshkosh was awarded its largest contract yet: a five-year deal from the US Army for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT). The contract called for delivery of 2140 trucks, valued at US$242 million, with an option on the further production of additional vehicles. The HEMTT range covered five different 8×8 models: two cargo trucks, a wrecker for vehicle recovery, a tractor and a fuel tanker. The HEMTT continued to be produced and delivered to the Army into the 1990s. 

Oshkosh improved its concrete line in 1982 with the appearance of the S-Series, with PTO agitator drive.

Meanwhile, defence contracts continued, including a 1984 deal to provide the US Air Force with 715 P-19 ARFF vehicles and 1400 Logistics Vehicle Systems (LVS) trucks to the US Marines. Like the HEMTT, the LVS was a multipurpose vehicle, with a variety of rear sections that could be detached and interchanged. 

In 1986 the US Air Force ordered 787 R-11 aircraft refuellers from Oshkosh, a contract worth $78 million over three years. 

From sales of US$86 million in 1982, the figures climbed to US$400 million in 1986. The company’s net income advanced even more impressively, from US$3.4 million to US$24.8 million – Oshkosh had not had a losing year since 1930.

In 1989 Oshkosh acquired the motor home chassis business of Deere and Co. The Deere division had sales around $100 million. Oshkosh diversified further in 1990 with the purchase of Miller Trailers Inc and Miller Ventures, Inc. 

Military contracts did not entirely dry up for Oshkosh. In January 1990 the US Army awarded Oshkosh the contract for more than 1000 M-1070 Heavy Equipment Transporters, whose main function was hauling tanks; plus a contract for 2626 Palletised Load System (PLS) vehicles. The PLS truck is a 10×10 that can carry 16.5 tonnes of cargo. 

Despite full order books, in 1990 Oshkosh lost US$2.8 million on revenue of US$453 million. Sales were down in every segment of the business except for chassis, while operating expenses rose 41 percent. 

Oshkosh was affected dramatically in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm. In both 1990 and 1991 earnings were held back by the costs associated with starting up new projects, most of them military. For 1991, however, Oshkosh did manage to turn a profit of US$755,000 from am much lower revenue of US$420 million. The company was also hurt by the ongoing recession in the construction industry, slowing sales of ready-mix concrete equipment.

Oshkosh rebounded somewhat in 1992, when sales jumped to US$641 million, and net income for the year was US$8.8 million. 

In the mid-1990s Oshkosh Truck’s future growth seemed most likely to depend on its ability to shift focus to commercial markets, because US defence budgets were cut somewhat. However, in 2010 the company received an order for 4700 Medium Tactical Vehicle (FMTV) trucks and trailers for the US Army. The order was valued at more than US$797 million.

The FMTV is a series of 17 models ranging from 2.5-ton to 10-ton payloads and the vehicles have parts commonality of more than 80 percent.

Then, in August 25, 2015, Oshkosh was awarded the US military’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle contract. The initial JLTV award was valued at US$6.75 billion for nearly 17,000 vehicles. The JLTV partially replaces the AM-General Humvee.

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