Hendrickson International recently celebrated 90 years in business by restoring a vintage truck originally built by the company in 1922. This celebration recognized a long tradition of innovations by a company that began building trucks, then progressed into a specialist builder of suspensions, axles, bumpers and springs supplied to other truck and trailer manufacturers.
Magnus Hendrickson, founder of Hendrickson, was born in Mangskog, Sweden, in 1864. After coming to America in 1887, his first job was taking care of steam engines and the drive equipment for operating sewing machines. In 1900, he built one of the first motor trucks. After building several other trucks and automobiles, he joined vehicle-builder Lauth-Juergens Motor Co. in Fremont, Ohio, as chief engineer.
In 1913, Magnus Hendrickson left Lauth-Juergens and formed the Hendrickson Motor Truck Co. with son George, who was later joined by three more sons. In September 1913, the company moved from Ohio to Chicago and began operations in a rented manufacturing building.
In 1926, the company introduced its first tandem suspension, the product that would become its mainstay and its most famous. The unique suspension featured an equalizing beam with center pivot to distribute the load evenly to the rear axles and reduce the effect of uneven terrain. The successful invention enabled the company to build its own assembly plant in 1927 and, by 1930, 30 people were employed.
A major boost occurred in 1936 when Hendrickson signed a contract with International Harvester to supply tandem suspensions exclusively for International trucks. This business, in the depths of the Great Depression, helped the company survive the 1930s in a strong financial position leading up to World War II. During the war, 75 employees manned two nine-hour shifts to supply International with up to 600 tandem suspensions a week in addition to building crane carriers and special Marine Corps tractors.
In 1948, Hendrickson relocated to Lyons, Ill., and by mutual agreement with International in 1951, began making tandem suspensions for the entire trucking industry. Over the years, several companies in the suspension industry in Canada, South America and Europe were acquired, and in 1977, Hendrickson sold its one-millionth tandem suspension. Since its acquisition by The Boler Co. in 1978, Hendrickson has experienced further growth but sold its truck-making business in 1985 to concentrate on suspensions. Today, Hendrickson is a major supplier to every North American heavy-duty truck/trailer manufacturer, as well as many overseas manufacturers.
The 1922 vintage Hendrickson truck now preserved was originally owned by Wellington Auto Repair of Chicago and has a carrying capacity of 1.5 tons. Its 70-hp Buda engine drives through a 3-speed Fuller transmission.
You can read more about the evolution of construction equipment in Keith Haddock's illustrated book "The Earthmover Encyclopedia" available in most bookstores. Consider a membership in the Historical Construction Equipment Association, www.hcea.net.