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Five Facts about the History of Tow Trucks

Towing in Tyler

Most people never think about tow trucks unless they have a break down. At that time the need for a tow truck becomes an immediate need. The history of the tow truck is a very interesting story.

1. Before Tow Trucks

In the days before tow trucks existed large animals were used to get broken down vehicles out of the road and sometimes even to their final destinations. Often it would take many men to get a car out of a jam. Sometimes these men would take wood, bricks, rope and a lot of man power to accomplish the job.

2. The First Tow Truck

When this situation happened to Ernest Holmes, Sr. had this situation with his vehicle, it proved to be the inspiration and motivation for him to find a solution. His first effort failed because he tried to use another car to solve the problem. That did not work because there was not enough stability to achieve the desired result. Having that failure only encouraged Mr. Holmes to keep trying to create an appropriate vehicle to do the task. His first truck crested in 1919 was called the Holmes 485. It was an expensive effort. In today’s dollars, it cost almost a quarter of a million dollars to complete.

3. The Technical Details of the First Tow Trucks

To accomplish the job of towing a vehicle, the first tow trucks employed hooks and pulleys that were configured in a way to get the amount of work needed to be done in an easier way. Instead of eight men a single operator could accomplish the required work. As the sophistication of the tow truck evolved, new models with new equipment were built.

4. The Evolution of the Tow Truck

The modern tow truck does its work with a smaller piece of equipment that has more power than ever before. These new innovations include:
• Today’s tow trucks combine both a wheel lift and a boom lift in a single piece of equipment. By putting the two together in one truck, this tow truck can handle just about any job necessary.
• Using hydraulic or pneumatic hoists wheel lifts can elevate the wheels off the ground. This helps save the car’s transmission when being towed.
• With the advent of the flatbed tow truck, larger vehicles can now be towed more easily. Unusually sized vehicles like farm equipment are now easily towed.

5. International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum

Believe it or not there is an International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum. It is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is a very appropriate location as Chattanooga was the home of the Ernest Holmes, Sr., the inventor of the tow truck. This museum houses collections about the history of the towing industry and the Holmes Family.


Today’s tow trucking industry owes a debt of gratitude to Ernest Holmes, Sr. His dilemma in Chattanooga in the early part of the twentieth century paved the way for the modern tow truck. That invention has saved a lot of people a lot of heartache, work and effort.