5 Things we Bet you Didn’t Know About the Towing Industry

by | Aug 29, 2016

The towing industry, while a necessary public service, is not one that’s usually celebrated or discussed in-depth due to the unfortunate events (accidents, collisions, and breakdowns) that warrant the need for towing services in the first place. However, the towing industry has a rich, interesting story and is filled with fun facts that any trucker, history enthusiast, or aspiring inventor would appreciate. Here are some examples:

There is a Tow Truck Museum

The International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum, more easily called the International Towing Museum, is a non-profit organization located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Established in 1995, this museum explores the origin and growth of the towing industry through its exhibition of pictographic historical information and all manner of towing equipment—from small tools to restored antique towing vehicles.

The location of the museum is significant for two reasons: the first is because Chattanooga is actually the hometown of its inventor, Sr. Ernest Holmes. The second is because the museum was built just 3.5 miles away from what was once the Ernest Holmes Company, the first-ever tow truck manufacturing facility and the birthplace of the first tow truck.

The First Tow Truck was Built in 1916

The first tow truck in history was a prototype built in 1916 by Sr. Ernest Holmes, a mechanic who sought to revolutionize the very concept of towing by replacing manpower with machine power. This aspiration was sparked after he and half a dozen other men were called to help pull a wrecked car from a creek—a feat that took eight hours to accomplish using blocks, ropes, and waning human strength. After that incident, Holmes worked to develop an alternative solution for towing vehicles so that attending to any similar accidents in the future would be easier and less time-consuming.


Holmes began by constructing a crane system and bolting it to the back of his 1913 Cadillac. Unfortunately, this prototype failed when Holmes tested it at another accident site, leaving him and several others to resort to the usual, heavy lifting rescue method. However, upon making further improvements to his design, he discovered that the weight of the recovery vehicle and its bolted towing equipment needed to be distributed more evenly in order to operate properly. By adding outriggers at the front of the Cadillac, the whole recovery vehicle stabilized, and Holmes had finally produced the first functional tow truck.

There Are Five Types of Tow Trucks

The towing industry is a century old. As the car and towing industries both evolved, so did the tow truck models and the specialized parts they utilized. Despite being collectively called “tow trucks,” there are actually five very different types of tow trucks used today. These consist of the hook and chain, boom, wheel-lift, flatbed, and integrated tow truck. The hook and chain towing method was Holmes’ initial invention, before the eventual development of the other four.

The World’s Smallest Tow Trucks Aren’t Actually Trucks

There may be five types of tow trucks, but there’s one recovery vehicle growing in popularity that isn’t a truck at all: the Retriever. Developed in Sweden by a company called Coming Through, this innovative 165 kg specialized towing motorcycle—based on the Honda GL 1800 Gold Wing—is capable of hauling 2,500 kg at roughly 20mph. The collapsible gear at the back of the motorcycle unfolds to load the vehicle in distress and folds away when it is not in use.

Retrievers are used in, and distributed to, a wide variety of places, but they seem to be especially popular in places like Japan and China where large populations and compacted cities make for tight traffic. Unlike trucks, motorcycle recovery vehicles like the Retriever can be driven off-road if necessary, and can more easily maneuver through heavy traffic and traffic accidents to get to the recovery site.

The World’s Largest Tow Truck is Canadian

The largest production recovery vehicle in the world, a million-dollar 60/80 SR Heavy Incident Manager, was manufactured by NRC Industries in Quebec and is now owned by Mario’s Towing Ltd. in Kelowna, Canada. This phenomenal machine is essentially a giant boom tow truck that features a durable boom and winch system at the rear. Its greatest advantage, setting it apart from all others, is its far-reaching apparatus, or crane, which allows for towing from a distance.  The crane can reach across several lanes to raise disabled vehicles up and out of traffic while the truck itself is parked off-road, instead of taking up an active lane to tow the vehicle in distress.


These are just a few of the many noteworthy facts surrounding the history and practices of the constantly evolving towing industry. If you or someone you know needs a tow truck, or if you have any questions about our services, please call the experts at Duvall’s Towing Service today at 561-432-8488.

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