In a recent FreightWaves Classics article the history of White Motor Company was profiled. Today, the history of Mack Trucks is featured. Much of the information in this article came from the Mack Trucks website; FreightWaves Classics thanks Mack Trucks and the Mack Trucks Historical Museum. The museum is located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and it is the authority regarding the history of Mack Trucks. The museum has restored antiques and records of every truck the company has ever built. It is currently closed, but those interested should check the museum’s websites for updates on its reopening. In the meantime, virtual tours of the museum are available.
Exhibits at the Mack Trucks Historical Museum. (Photo: Mack Trucks Historical Museum)
Founded in 1900 in Brooklyn, New York, as the Mack Brothers Company, Mack Trucks, Inc. is a global leader in heavy-duty trucks. Mack produced its first truck in 1907.
The Mack Brothers Company moved its headquarters to Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1905, and changed its name to Mack Trucks, Inc. in 1922.
Mack’s full line of products is assembled near its former Allentown headquarters in Macungie, Pennsylvania. According to the Mack website, “engines and transmissions for the North American market are built at its powertrain facility” in Hagerstown, Maryland. The company is a major manufacturer of heavy-duty Class 8 trucks, engines and transmissions.
In addition to its U.S. base, Mack trucks are sold and serviced in more than 45 countries worldwide. The company has an assembly plant in Australia to manufacture parts for right-hand drive vehicles that are then distributed worldwide. Mack also ships components to its South American assembly plant in Venezuela for final assembly.
Volvo Group siblings Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks became the first heavy-duty manufacturers to idle U.S. production because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: FreightWaves/Alan Adler)
The company was purchased by Volvo Group in 2000. Volvo Group is a global leader in the manufacturing and sales of trucks, buses, construction equipment, marine and industrial engines. In 2009, Mack’s primary corporate offices were moved to Volvo’s North American headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina.
While Mack Trucks is very successful and part of an international manufacturer that is also successful, the road between 1900 and now was not always without potholes…
The Mack Truck story began 10 years before the company was founded, when John (Jack) Mack was hired by Fallesen & Berry, a Brooklyn carriage and wagon manufacturer. Three years later, in 1893, Jack Mack and one of his brothers (Augustus, or Gus) bought Fallesen & Berry. The next year, William, another Mack brother, joined Jack and Gus in the company. Collectively, they tinkered with steam- and electric-powered automobiles.
In 1900, the Mack brothers opened their first bus manufacturing facility. They delivered the first “Mack bus” to a sightseeing company. Mack Brothers began using the brand name “Manhattan” on its products in 1904.
As outlined above, the company moved its headquarters from Brooklyn to Allentown in 1905. That same year, a fourth Mack brother (Joseph) became a stockholder in the company. Also in 1905 the company began manufacturing railcars and locomotives. Then Mack manufactured a 1.5-ton truck in 1909.
By 1910, the company rebadged the Manhattan-brand trucks as “Mack” trucks. Also that year, the fifth Mack brother (Charles) joined the company and Mack delivered its first motorized hook and ladder fire truck to the city of Morristown, New Jersey.
International Motor Company
In August 1911, the Mack brothers sold the company. The International Motor Company was created as a holding company for the Mack Brothers Motor Car Company and the Saurer Motor Company, another truck manufacturer that had a plant in Plainfield, New Jersey. The two truck manufacturing companies continued as distinct organizations. However, the sales and service of Mack and Saurer trucks were combined as a holding company function. International Motor Company continued to manufacture and sell trucks with the Saurer brand name until 1918.
John and Joseph Mack, who had become directors of the International Motor Company when they sold Mack Brothers, left the company in 1912. In 1914, the year that World War I began, the Mack ABs were introduced. The truck was the company’s first standardized, high-volume model. The first Mack ABs were equipped with a chain (or worm) drive. In 1920, a dual reduction drive replaced the chain drive. The Mack AB was a medium-duty truck and was modified many times over the years. Its production run extended from 1914-1936; more than 55,000 Mack ABs were built during that period.
In 1916 the famous AC model Mack Truck was introduced. It had a chain drive rear axle and earned a reputation for reliability and durability. According to the Mack Truck history page, the AC “was called on to help accomplish nearly impossible military and civilian tasks.” Over 40,000 Model AC trucks were built over a 24-year continuous manufacturing cycle. This truck is credited for “giving Mack its famous Bulldog identity, but also with achieving a degree of success and international fame that has never been accomplished by any other motor truck in history.”
During the war, Mack built approximately 4,500 AC trucks (3.5-, 5.5- and 7.5-ton capacity) for the U.S. military. It also built over 2,000 of the ACs for the armed forces of the United Kingdom. According to Mack Truck historians, it is the English that gave the Mack Truck its famous nickname and symbol.
According to Mack, British soldiers (known as “Tommies”) would call out “Aye, send in the Mack Bulldogs!” when facing a difficult trucking task. More to the point, British engineers testing ACs and British soldiers in France said that “the Mack ACs have the tenacity of a bulldog.” At that time, the bulldog was the symbol of Great Britain, so being compared to a bulldog was very flattering. American soldiers in World War I were called “Doughboys,” and they shared the opinions of their British allies when it came to the capabilities of the ACs used in combat areas.
In 1918 Mack was the first manufacturer to fit trucks with air cleaners and oil filters after company engineers understood the fuel and maintenance savings these products generated.
Post-World War I
Following World War I the U.S. Army was studying the need for and the feasibility of a national highway system. In 1919, a certain Major Dwight D. Eisenhower served on the Transcontinental Motor Convoy, an army vehicle exercise that traveled from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco at a pace of 5 mph. Mack trucks were used for the convoy, which was designed both as a training event and as a way to publicize the need for better roads. It spurred a number of states to increase funding for road-building. Eisenhower’s experience in the convoy would later influence his decision to help create the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.
The company’s name was changed in 1922 to Mack Trucks, Inc. Capitalizing on the comparisons of its trucks to the tenacity of bulldogs earned in World War I, a bulldog was chosen as the company’s corporate symbol. Ten years later, Mack’s chief engineer, Alfred Masury, carved Mack’s first bulldog hood ornament. He applied for and received a U.S. patent for his design; the bulldog hood ornament has been on Mack trucks ever since.
The first use of the bulldog symbol was a sheet metal plate riveted to each side of a Mack truck cab. The first plates spelled “bulldog” as two words; the bull dog was shown chewing a book entitled “Hauling Costs.” The dog had “Mack” printed on his collar.
Improvements to the trucks
The company made many mechanical and systems improvements to its trucks in the early 1920s. Mack introduced power brakes on its trucks in 1920. Then Mack engineers began to use rubber isolators to cushion mounting chassis components in 1921. This so improved shock resistance that the Rubber Shock Insulator Company was established to license the use of the technology by other automotive and truck manufacturers. In 1922 Mack was the first company to use a drive shaft instead of chain drive on a truck.
An early Mack truck. (Photo: Mack Trucks Historical Museum)
In 1927 Mack introduced the Mack BJ and BB models, the first of the “early B Series.” These were Mack’s first trucks that met the growing need for trucks with more hauling capacity and that could operate at a higher speed. The use of trucks to haul freight instead of shipping via railroads was growing, and the nation’s road infrastructure was slowly improving. More than 15,000 of these trucks were built between their introduction and 1941.
Over a 15-year period (1929-1944) Mack manufactured over 2,600 semi- or full trailers. Mack’s full trailers came in two versions – non-reversible or reversible. The non-reversible trailers were built with a rear axle that was solidly fastened and a draw bar on the front; the trailer could only be pulled in one direction. The reversible trailers had similar axle arrangements at each end. This meant that either end could be fastened in a stationary position; the draw bar could then be fastened to the trailer’s other end, allowing either end to be the front of the unit.
As President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal began in 1933, Mack Trucks were utilized in numerous major construction projects of the Work Projects Administration, including construction of the Hoover Dam.
A Mack dump truck from the early 1930s, Trucks like this were used to haul materials for the building of the Hoover Dam.
(Photo: Mack Trucks)
Mack introduced a new series of trucks in 1936. Its E series consisted of “streamlined, medium-duty trucks.” The E trucks had gross vehicle weight ratings of as much as 23,000 pounds. Mack offered the E trucks in either conventional or cab-over-engine configurations. Mack manufactured the various E series trucks through 1951 and built over 78,000 of them.
From 1938 to 1944, Mack built the ED model. About 2,700 of this three-quarter ton truck were sold. From 1926 to 1979 the company built a variety of off-highway or mine trucks. They ranged in capacity from 15 tons to 100 tons.
In the late 1930s Mack was among the first manufacturers to equip its heavy-duty trucks with a four-wheel braking system. The brakes increased safety and the ability of a driver to more easily brake a heavily loaded vehicle. Mack was the first manufacturer to “design and build its own heavy-duty diesel engines” in 1938.
From 1936 to 1938 Mack sold trucks branded “Mack Jr.” However, the trucks were not built by Mack; they were built by the REO Motor Car Company to Mack specifications. Nearly 5,000 of these chassis were manufactured and sold.
World War II
During World War II, Mack built a variety of heavy-duty trucks for the Allies. From 1941 to 1945, Mack delivered over 35,000 vehicles to the armed forces of the United States, Great Britain, France and Canada. The majority of the vehicles (almost 27,000) were from the Combat N Series (NB, NJU, NM, NO, NR, etc.). These specialty vehicles included prime movers, personnel carriers, wreckers and tank transporters. The remainder were vehicles that were commercial in design but used for war-related purposes including heavy-duty trucks, off-highway vehicles, fire trucks, trailers and buses. A major military contractor, Mack Trucks ranked 63rd among U.S. corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts.
After World War II, Mack went back to building commercial trucks. Among them was the Mack L series. These heavy-duty trucks were introduced in 1940, but because of the war were not mass-produced for several years. Trucks built on the L design (which was improved throughout its production) were sold until 1956. Certain models in the L series were built with aluminum components; coupled with powerful engines they were used for long distance hauling. About 35,000 L series trucks were built and sold during the series’ lifespan.
In the 1950s Mack brought new innovations and products to the market, including several new truck series. The H series trucks were nicknamed “Cherry Pickers” because of their very high cabs. The trucks were equipped with a shorter bumper-to-back of cab length, which allowed them to haul 35-foot trailers in order to meet the overall 45-foot limits in place at the time.
A Mack tractor pulls a trailer in the 1950s. (Photo: Mack Trucks)
The best-selling series introduced by Mack Trucks in the 1950s (in 1953) was its B series, which became one of the company’s most popular and successful trucks. Nearly 128,000 of the newly styled series were built between 1953 and 1966, and there were multiple model variations sold. Mack also rolled out its Thermodyne open-chamber, direct-injection diesel engine. According to the company, the engine “established Mack’s tradition of leadership in diesel performance and fuel efficiency.”
In 1955 Mack introduced its D Model, which was a “low cab-forward city delivery truck.” Two versions of the D were manufactured between 1955 and 1958, but fewer than 1,000 were built.
A more successful, longer-lasting truck was also introduced in 1955. Mack built the M123 10-ton 6×6 semi-tractor for the U.S. military. Versions of the truck were produced until 1976, when it was replaced by another Mack, the M911.
An acquisition and new models
Mack Trucks bought Brockway Motor Company in 1956 and built Brockway trucks until 1977. From 1912 until it was shut down in 1977, Brockway built custom heavy-duty trucks in Cortland, New York. The company began as Brockway Carriage Works in 1875; it became a truck manufacturer in 1909.
In 1959, Mack built its first aluminum-riveted cab-over-engine (COE) trucks. Its G series featured a lightweight all-aluminum cab, coupled with the ability to transport heavy loads. The G model series had a short production run because it too closely resembled a similar Kenworth model. Moreover, Mack had already redesigned its COE and introduced its F model in 1962. The Mack F truck featured all-steel construction and came in two styles – sleeper or non-sleeper.
A tanker is pulled by a 1960s Mack tractor. (Photo: Mack Trucks)
Mack rolled out the R series to replace the B series in 1965. The model run was exceptionally long; some R series models continued to be manufactured until 2005. Like the B series, Mack’s R series became one of the most popular heavy-duty trucks in history. Mack also brought out its “revolutionary Maxidyne constant horsepower diesel engine,” as well as its Maxitorque transmission.
In 1966, Mack began to build trucks at a new assembly facility in the Canadian province of Ontario. The plant built Mack trucks for the Canadian market until it was closed in 1993.
A change of corporate ownership occurred in 1967. Los Angeles-based Signal Oil and Gas Company acquired Mack Trucks; later that same year Signal modified its name to Signal Companies, Inc.
That year, Mack also brought to market the Maxidyne engine. The engine “provided maximum horsepower over a wider range of engine speeds than any other standard diesel engine of its day. The engine’s design leveled the horsepower curve and as a result, increased fuel efficiency and significantly reduced the need for shifting. It was such an improvement that a transmission with five speeds, rather than 10 or more, could be used for most over-the-road applications.”
Mack also introduced the Maxitorque transmission in 1967. This was the first triple countershaft, compact-length transmission designed for Class 8 trucks. The Maxitorque featured the “highest torque capacity in the industry. The five-speed Maxitorque was only two-thirds as long as multi-speed transmissions.” In addition, it was lightweight, which made it a popular choice with truck owners dealing with gross vehicle weight.
In 1969, Mack developed and patented “cab air suspension,” which significantly improved the “ride” of a truck as well as cab durability.
Mack Trucks completed and moved into a new global headquarters in Allentown during 1970. The following year Mack patented the Dynatard engine compression brake. Mack began the production and sale of its premium cab-over-engine heavy-duty truck, the Cruise-Liner, in 1974. Cruise-Liner trucks were produced for a decade.
The Macungie assembly plant began operations in 1975. The Engineering, Development and Test Center also began operations in Allentown. At this 65-acre facility, Mack engineers were able to take vehicle or component ideas from design to prototype to test at one location.
Mack introduced its RW model trucks in 1977. RW trucks were manufactured at Mack’s Hayward, California facility from 1977 through 1981. Production was moved to Pennsylvania, where the RW was built until 1993, when the model was taken out of production.
Also in 1977, Mack rolled out its Super-Liner, a heavy-duty truck built for heavy hauling that also had many of the latest driver conveniences. The Super-Liner had a 15-year production history. The next year Mack brought out its MC/MR series. These low-cab-forward trucks were built for the refuse, construction and urban delivery markets.
In 1979 French auto/truck manufacturer Renault bought 10% of the company from Signal. Mack and Renault had begun their relationship in 1977, when the companies worked together to distribute a medium-duty diesel truck series for the North American, Central American and Caribbean markets. These trucks were brought to market in 1979 as the Mack Mid-Liner series. The Mid-Liner was a Class 6 truck, and helped to expand Mack’s line of offerings. However, Mack exited the medium-duty market in 2003.
Mack brought to market the MH Ultra-Liner model in 1982. This truck featured the first “successful all-fiberglass, metal cage-reinforced cab.” Its design generated “advancements in cab-weight reduction and corrosion resistance.”
Another cab-over-engine Mack model; this one from the 1980s hauls a dry van. (Photo: Mack Trucks)
That same year Renault increased its stake in Mack Trucks to 20%, while Signal reduced its Mack holdings by 10%. In 1983, Mack Trucks went through an initial public offering (IPO), issuing 15.7 million shares of common stock. At that time Renault doubled its stake to 40% of Mack. Concurrently, Signal decreased its holdings to 10.3% of the company.
Renault reorganized in 1987; its shares in Mack were transferred to Renault Véhicules Industriels. The next year Mack rolled out its E7 series of 12-liter engines. The E7 series included “16 different engines with horsepower ratings ranging from 250 to 454.” The E7 engines had the “best horsepower-to-weight ratios” in the industry.
Mack is acquired (again)
In 1990, Mack Trucks became a wholly owned subsidiary of Renault Véhicules Industriels when its remaining publicly traded shares were acquired by the French company. Mack operated as a key part of Renault’s global operations for 11 years.
AB Volvo began the process to acquire Renault Véhicules Industriels in 2000, 100 years after the founding of the Mack Brothers Company. On December 18, 2000 the U.S. Department of Justice approved AB Volvo’s acquisition of Mack. The acquisition closed in 2001, when Renault Véhicules Industriels and Mack Trucks became divisions of AB Volvo. Mack has continued to be a major truck manufacturer in both the U.S. and global markets.
Mack Trucks received an order for seven LR Electric refuse trucks from the New York City Department of Sanitation.
(Photo: Mack Trucks)