Clark is generally credited with introducing the very first forklift in approximately 1917 and offered these machines for sale in 1918. Starting in the 1920s, the design of the forklift evolved from a tractor with an attachment to a dedicated machine with a vertical lifting mast. Soon, several manufacturers arrived on the scene. Yale and Baker both entered the market with electric battery powered machines. In the 1930s, Hyster Company moved from a manufacturer of logging equipment into the world of forklifts.
Following World War II, other manufacturers jumped in the bandwagon and started the production of forklifts. The use and development of the forklift truck greatly expanded during this time as warehouses were expanding upward instead of out so forklifts were designed to lift loads up to 50 feet (15.2 meters), which was higher than ever before. Along with the emerging use of wooden pallets and the increased load height, certain safety measures were applied to the forklift during this time including a cage for drivers to prevent falling materials and a backrest to help keep the load in place as it is lifted.
Forklifts continued to evolve through the 1960s as new technology became available. The later part of 1960s saw the first sophisticated electronic controls for electric forklifts. The forklift was further refined in the 1970s as improvements were made in the motor and engine controls. The 1970’s also started the consolidation of several lift truck manufacturers in the marketplace. For example, Lewis-Sheppard was acquired by Hyster and Baker was acquired by Linde of Germany.
In the 1980s, Toyota and Nissan were becoming major competitors in the forklift industry along with Daewoo of Korea. More safety measures were introduced including the operator safety restraint and developments in forklift balance technology. This period also saw the emergence of automated and wire guidance systems trucks.
Today, forklifts have now become an indispensable piece of equipment in manufacturing and warehousing operations. Besides making it much more user-friendly, it is ergonomically designed to provide optimum operator comfort and productivity with styling to match. The forklifts we have today can be equipped with a wide range of electronic equipment to interface with cargo management systems and new RFID technology to increase productivity.
In 2013 alone, the top 20 forklift manufacturers worldwide posted a total sales of $30.4 billion with 944,405 machines sold.