An Interesting (and Surprising) History of Forklifts

As a common sight in most warehouses and store rooms, forklifts help keep a business running. This special equipment allows workers to move product from one area to another without much physical effort. This efficiency allows employees to focus on other tasks. Read on to find out more about the history of forklifts.

A Humble beginning

As with many things, the creation of forklifts was to meet a need. A surprising fact is that the need was not in manufacturing, but in transportation. Railroads needed to move luggage, and the labor shortage made this hard to accomplish. In 1887, a truck was created that could lift items off of the ground. In 1909, a lift truck was created that was made completely out of steel. At this point, load handling became popular and many manufacturers started making their own lifting units.

While the initial demand for this equipment was in the railroad industry, the equipment became heavily used in manufacturing and warehouses. Pallet designs became popular in the 1930’s, and this led to another surge of high demand. World War II created even more demand, as weapons and other items needed to be loaded efficiently onto the ships. There are reports of companies increasing their shipments five-fold over the course of the war because of it.

Modern designs

Over the years, designs have changed so they now are able to raise loads high, as well as tilt. Ergonomics have been improved, and safety standards have been raised to protect workers.

Equipment Safety

Since there are many types of forklifts, your workers will need to know how to safely operate them in your building. Safety standards have come a long way since 1887. If you are a new operator, you will undergo hours of safety training before becoming certified. A key part of the certification process is using the equipment alongside a trainer to prove competency. Modern safety features on almost all types of forklifts include audible alarms, as well as radar systems. They are also likely to have a cage around the driver to reduce the chance of being struck by a falling object. Ergonomic designs were updated in the 1980’s, so it is less likely to have medical issues as a result of operating the forklift.

Kinds of forklifts

There are various types of forklifts, and one size does not fit all. Features allow you to determine the best forklift for you. There are options for manual operation, as well as electric operation. You can even select a machine that will be capable of going down narrow aisles. Since warehouses vary in size and design, you may find you want a different unit for your operation than a another person in the same industry. In addition to the electric forklift, other common truck styles include:

  • Hand pallet truck
  • Walkie low lift truck
  • Rider low lift truck
  • Reach truck
  • Guided very narrow aisle truck

Electric Forklifts

Starting in the 1990’s, concerns arose regarding exhaust emissions. Emissions standards were put in place, and many companies now require testing. This is to make sure that the units are not damaging the environment. As a result of these concerns, there have been new developments. Fuel cell technology is now used. There are also units run on AC power, removing the need for emissions altogether.


Because there are so many styles of this equipment, their cost can vary greatly. Hand trucks and other styles of low lift and rider trucks can be found for a few thousand dollars. Depending on accessories and special features, electric units can range from approximately $15,000 to over $100,000. There are even some models that can cost over $200,000.

Determining the best forklift

It is not possible to say that any one forklift is truly better than another one. The best piece of equipment for your situation may not be best for someone else. Even someone in the same situation may feel a different style would better work for them. To determine the best forklift for you, investigate the types available to to you and what will best meet the needs of company.

From humble beginnings as baggage wagons to the vehicles they are today, these workhorses have made a large transformation. It is easy to buy accessories and equipment, and they are designed to last through years of hard work. If you are in the market to buy forklift parts or a full unit, take a look at the different brands and styles of available. There are many options to choose from to find one that can meet any budget.

Nevada Contractor License | #00085110 #0085114
California License | #813810
171 Coney Island Dr.
Sparks, NV, 89431

(775) 329-1384