The History of Kenworth Motor Truck Company

During the time that brought dramatic change to the Northwest as Model Ts began
challenging the horse and carriage in the transportation race, a Seattle businessman Edgar
Worthington was managing his mother’s building, which was a car and truck dealership at the
time. Edgar had a very special interest in the Gerlinger Motor Car Company, watching as they
worked, sold, and fixed cars and trucks. He never had any clue that someday it would be his.
The first truck, which was unveiled in 1915, was call the Gersix, which was a straight
six-cylinder vehicle. It was framed in structural steel. This made it ideal for the rugged
Northwest roads. This Gersix took almost a year to complete with only two mechanics. As soon
as something came in to the Gerlinger Motor Car Company, the mechanics would drop the work
on the truck, and go do whatever else they had to do.
The company who made the Gersix, which had offices in Seattle and Portland, was offered
for sale. Edgar jumped on the opportunity. Him and his new partner Captain Frederick Kent,
bought the company and renamed it the Gersix Motor Company.
In 1919, Frederick Kent retired from the business and his son, Harry Kent became Edgar’s
new partner. The company grew fast, along with the need for a capital. In the year 1922, 53
trucks were sold. Sales were strong for Gersix, they decided to reincorporate, capitalizing
$60,000 infusion of cash. That was completed in 1923 and it marked the beginning of the new
era. The company then became known as Ken-Worth, which was named after the stockholders
Harry Kent and Edgar Worthington. They established headquarters in Seattle and the Kenworth
Motor Truck Company was born.
The next year, 1924, Kenworth sold 80 trucks, and the following year sold two per week.
Kenworth, in the early years, was dedicated to the custom truck. A master salesman responsible
for building sales in the region, named Vernon Smith, the custom truck became the hallmark for
Vernon Smith would go out and sell some trucks with this or that specification, and then
he would come back to the plant and say, “I have the sale, but now we have to build them.” The
custom trucks came as the “state-of-the-market” at the time. Everybody else was building
standard stuff, and they were building anything that Vernon could get an order for.
In 1927, production jumped to three trucks per week. Kenworth began manufacturing
trucks in Canada, which eliminated expensive duty charges. This made Kenworths more
affordable in Canada. As the Kenworth Motor Company continued to grow, lack of space
became a major problem. The problem was soon fixed by opening a new Seattle factory; a
factory which would help them for future growth.
The Great Depression put the brakes on Kenworth’s outstanding growth of the late
1920’s. With Kenworth’s uncertainty in knowing what the future would hold, they stayed very
aggressive in their marketing. They began production of fire trucks in 1932, catering to the
special requirements each fire chief seemed to have.
Kenworth was the first American truck manufacturer to install diesel engines as standard
equipment in 1933. It was a major development that allowed Kenworth to develop a powerful
and durable line of diesel trucks. These new trucks were a huge hit with customers all over, who
also loved the benefit of fuel savings--diesel was a mere third of the price of gasoline. Kenworth
had another advancement in 1933, they made the first sleeper cab.
1935 produced a challenge for the Kenworth because of the Motor Carrier Act. New
regulations meant stiffer weight and size restrictions. This made Kenworth engineers develop
aluminum components. Kenworth trucks at that time also had six-wheel drive, hydraulic brakes,
four-spring suspension, and rear axle torsion bar suspension.
In 1936, Kenworth entered into the cab-over-engine truck market. This truck was called
the “bubble-nose truck” These trucks were very efficient and able to carry a maximum amount of
cargo in a minimal overall length. In 1937, Phil Johnson became the president of Kenworth,
replacing Harry Kent who had died suddenly of a heart attack. In 1940, the Kenworth Company
saw 226 trucks leave the factory.
The United States, caught off guard by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, quickly prepared for
war. Kenworth joined the war effort one month after the attack of Pearl Harbor. They built 430
four ton, heavy-duty M-1 “Wreckers.” By the end of that year there were 1500 more “Wreckers”
ordered. The six-wheeled