August Fruehauf was the founder of the Fruehauf Trailer Company in Detroit, MI and is credited with inventing the semi-trailer. Fruehauf was born in Fraser, Michigan in 1868. He spent his early years working with his father at the local sawmill but left for Detroit at the age of 14 where he took a job as a blacksmith’s apprentice.
Fruehauf established his own blacksmith shop in 1899 and quickly built a reputation as one of the best in the country. He also began building horse wagons, an undertaking that led him to an even more profitable venture. In 1914, Fruehauf was approached by Frederic Sibley, a Detroit lumber manufacturer. Sibley owned a boat that he wanted to move to his summer home in northern Michigan. A horse drawn wagon could accomplish this task but would take days to do so. Sibley asked Fruehauf if he could devise a hitch mechanism so that he could tow the boat behind his Ford Model T.
Fruehauf removed the front axle from a wagon that was attached to the rear of Mr. Sibley’s Model T. He then removed the Model T’s backseat and attached the trailer to the top of the chassis. He called his invention a “semi-trailer.” After the trailer successfully transported the boat to the lake, Sibley asked Fruehauf to construct trailers for his lumber yard. Trailer orders for other lumber yards came pouring in, leading Fruehauf to establish the Fruehauf Trailer Company 1918. The company quickly grew into the largest semi-trailer manufacturer in the world while introducing groundbreaking innovations in semi-trailer technology.
One of Fruehauf’s major contributions was the automatic 5th wheel hitch in 1926, a design that is still in use around the world. He also constructed the first refrigerated semi-trailer. August Fruehauf passed away in 1930, but even after his death, the company continued to grow. Through hard work, tenacity and ingenuity, August Fruehauf helped launch a global industry from Detroit.