Oshkosh Truck Corporation History
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54903
Telephone: (414) 235-9150
Fax: (414) 233-9624
Incorporated: 1917 as Oshkosh Motor Truck Manufacturing Company
Sales: $641 million
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
SICs: 3710 Motor Vehicles & Equipment
Oshkosh Truck Corporation is a major manufacturer of specialized truck and transport equipment. Based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the company produces a broad range of products designed to meet the needs of specific market niches. The three major markets to which Oshkosh sells its products, both domestically and internationally, are defense, municipal, and commercial. Included among the heavy-duty vehicles Oshkosh produces are military transport vehicles, aircraft fire-fighting equipment, snow removal vehicles, stripped chassis for motor homes, buses, and walk-in delivery vans, and various types of trailers. The company's main Oshkosh plant houses its corporate headquarters, as well as machining, fabricating, and subassembly facilities. Also located in Oshkosh are an engineering test and development center, a truck subassembly and final assembly plant, a parts distribution center, and a paint and final test plant. Oshkosh operates one of the world's most modern chassis manufacturing plants, which is located in Gaffney, South Carolina. The chassis plant features a 650-foot-long moving assembly line. The company's trailer division's headquarters and manufacturing plant division are located in Bradenton, Florida and Mansfield, Texas.
Oshkosh Truck was founded by William R. Besserdich and Bernhard A. Mosling in 1917. The two men had received patents in 1914 and 1915 for improvements on four-wheel-drive capability. Besserdich and Mosling approached several established automobile manufacturers--including Ford, Packard, and Studebaker--about using their designs to produce a four-wheel-drive vehicle. After a series of rejections, they decided to start their own company. Handling the business end of the operation, Mosling sold stock in the new company, raising $250,000 in capital. Meanwhile, master engineer Besserdich was busy coming up with a prototype vehicle design. In May of 1917, the Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company, located in Clintonville, Wisconsin, was incorporated. Besserdich was the company's president, and Mosling was listed as its manager and secretary. The prototype vehicle was a four-cylinder, three-speed, 3,000-pound truck called Old Betsy. The success of Old Betsy's four-wheel-drive components attracted investors. Since many of the investors were based in Oshkosh, 47 miles south of Clintonville, the company relocated there toward the end of 1917 and changed its name to Oshkosh Motor Truck Manufacturing Company.
The first Oshkosh truck to hit the market was the two-ton capacity Model A, at a price of about $3,500. After the Model A, Oshkosh began offering the Model B, which could carry 3.5 tons, and soon afterward, the five ton Model F. The four-wheel-drive ability of the Oshkosh trucks quickly set them apart from conventional trucks already on the market. Sales grew from seven trucks in 1918 to 54 in 1919, to 142 in 1920. The company, however, hit a slump immediately following World War I. A postwar depression, combined with a government program that donated surplus trucks to municipalities, resulted in sales that shrank from 62 trucks in 1921 to 16 in 1923. In 1922 Mosling replaced Besserdich as company president.
In 1925 Oshkosh introduced the Model H, a powerful truck with a six-cylinder engine. The Model H proved to be useful for road construction and snow plowing, and therefore sold well to municipalities. Sales of the Model H kept Oshkosh in business through the second half of the 1920s. The company fell victim to the Great Depression, however, and in 1930 was forced to reorganize. It re-emerged as Oshkosh Motor Truck Company. R. W. Mackie was president of the company's new incarnation, while Mosling concentrated on improving the company's sales. Oshkosh introduced two new trucks in 1932, Models FC and FB. Both new models had six-cylinder gasoline engines. Their transmissions ranged from four- to twelve-speed, and their hauling capacities were as high as 44,000 pounds. In 1933 Oshkosh unveiled Model TR, the first earthmover to appear with rubber tires. The four-wheel-drive TR was designed to be used with dozer blades, bottom-dump trailers, or self-loading scrapers. Major buyers of the truck included airport construction contractors, dam and canal builders, and mining companies.
Oshkosh diversified its product line further with the introduction of the J-Series in 1935. The J-Series trucks had capacities from two to three-and-a-half tons, and they had the classic rounded styling of 1930s automobiles. Oshkosh experimented in the 1930s with rear-wheel-drive vehicles, but the fierceness of competition from mass-production companies forced a quick withdrawal from that market, leaving Oshkosh to continue focusing on four-wheel-drive equipment. Many of Oshkosh's best customers in the 1930s were located in dairy states such as New York and Wisconsin, as well as parts of New England. In those areas, prompt plowing of roads was required throughout the winter to enable delivery from remotely located dairy farms. In 1930 the prices of Oshkosh trucks ranged from $2,885 to $13,500.
In 1939 Oshkosh introduced its W-Series truck, which marked Oshkosh's first significant entry into production for military use. The Army Corps of Engineers selected the company's Model W-700 for a variety of operations, including snow removal from Air Corps runways and general wrecker work. Toward the end of World War II, production began on Model W-1600. The W-1600, driven by all three of its axles, was designed for off-road use in oil fields and for pulling heavily laden trailers. Mosling stepped back into the company's presidency in 1944. Under Mosling Oshkosh continued developing the W-Series of trucks, introducing the W-2200 in 1947. The W-2200 could run on either a gasoline or diesel fuel and was virtually unmatched in the size of plows or wings with which it could be equipped. Large numbers of the truck were purchased by mining companies for hauling ore and by sugar companies for plantation to processor transportation.
Production of the W-2200 ended in 1955. The same year, Oshkosh began making the Model 50-50, the first truck specifically built to carry concrete. It was an immediate hit in the ready-mix concrete industry on account of its four-wheel-drive ability at work sites and its greater capacity compared to previous models. The postwar building frenzy helped fuel brisk sales of the 50-50, particularly in the major ready-mix concrete markets of Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The truck's immediate success led to the creation later that year of a diesel-powered version, the Model 45-55, with a rear axle capacity of 23,000 pounds, slightly higher than the 18,000 pound capacity of the 50-50.
Bernhard Mosling was succeeded as president of Oshkosh by his son John Mosling in 1956. Oshkosh came out with Model 1832 that year. Model 1832 was the company's first tandem-axle ready-mix truck and was based on the design of the 50-50. During the 1960s, variations of Model 1832 were created to better contend with federal brake standards and certain state's weight distribution requirements for bridges. In the early 1960s the F-Series was developed by pushing the front axle forward, in contrast with the "long-nose" appearance of the 1832. Models with set-back axles evolved into the C-Series. As demand increased for larger concrete carriers to accommodate the booming construction industry, F-Series trucks were made available in 6x6, 8x6, 10x6, and 10x8 drives. Eventually, a need arose for a variation with tandem driving front axles, and this became the D-Series.
Oshkosh's first major defense contract after World War II was for more than 1,000 WT-2206 vehicles. The WT-2206 was a large, heavy-duty truck capable of plowing snow at much higher speeds than conventional equipment. The Air Force purchased the trucks for clearing runways at its northern-most bases. Their ability to plow while moving at 55 miles-per-hour was well-suited to the quick-response needs of the Distant Early Warning system that was created in the thickest period of Cold War tensions. In 1968 Oshkosh began building the U.S. Navy MB-5, an aircraft rescue and fire-fighting (ARFF) truck capable of carrying 400 gallons of water. The water could expand to 5,000 gallons of extinguishing foam when combined with a special concentrated form of the foam.
The U-30 was also designed and built by Oshkosh for the Air Force in 1968. The U-30 was an aircraft tow tractor designed to tow the C5A cargo aircraft. Another tow tractor, the smaller MB-2, went into production that year as well. Forty-five of the U-30 and 72 of the MB-2 were built in all. In 1971 the Navy ordered 73 MB-1s. The MB-1 was an ARFF similar to the MB-5, but had a capacity of 1,000 gallons. These were followed throughout the 1970s by a progression of larger crash-rescue trucks. These included the P-4, a 6x6 truck with a 1,500 gallon capacity; a variation of the P-4 called the P-4A; and the gigantic 66-ton P-15. The U.S. Air Force bought more than 500 P-4s in the early 1970s. P-4As were also purchased by both the U.S. Navy and the Australian Air Force. The P-15, which first appeared in 1977, could carry 6,000 gallons of water, expandable to 60,000 gallons of foam fire-suppressant. Oshkosh received its first U.S. Army contract in 1976. The contract called for 744 tractors to be built that could pull trailers full of heavy equipment or tanks. Oshkosh responded with the M-911 Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET). The M-911 MET design was based on the company's F-Series truck, and was still being produced 15 years after the initial contract was awarded. In 1979 the Air Force contracted Oshkosh to deliver more than 100 aircraft loaders. The aircraft loader designed and built by Oshkosh was called the 40K because of its ability to lift 40,000 pounds.
Meanwhile, on the civilian side, Oshkosh was introducing a number of new trucks in the 1970s. The B-Series, first produced in 1975, was a forward placement concrete carrier. The B-Series truck allowed the operator, seated in a one-person cab over the front axle, to drive to the precise location the concrete was to be discharged, and control the chute without leaving the cab. As the ready-mix business provided increasing revenue for Oshkosh throughout the decade, products were presented for other uses as well. In 1974 a new J-Series (which was not related to the J-Series of the 1930s) emerged as heir to the F-Series legacy. Two models, the Desert Prince and the Desert Knight, were built for use in oil-field operations. The two six-wheel-drive trucks had 325 to 485 horsepower diesel engines and large balloon tires to travel over sand. A large number of these trucks saw action in the Middle East and in China. The R-Series was also launched during this period. The R-Series was a line of heavy-duty 6x4 trucks and tractors designed to withstand the more challenging road conditions of the Middle East, Africa, and Australia. The E-Series was also designed for the international over-the-road truck market. The E-Series cab was located over the engine. Both the E- and R-Series trucks were powered by Caterpillar engines.
Despite the company's civilian products, defense contracts continued to provide the majority of Oshkosh's growth through the 1980s. In 1981 Oshkosh was awarded its largest contract yet, a five-year deal from the U.S. Army to produce Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT). The contract called for delivery of 2,140 trucks, valued at $242 million, with an option on the further production of 5,350 additional vehicles, good for another $600 million. The HEMTT came in five different eight-wheel-drive models: two cargo trucks, a wrecker for vehicle recovery, a tractor, and a fuel tanker. The HEMTT continued to be produced and delivered to the Army into the 1990s. Its role in the 1990 Persian Gulf War included pulling the Patriot missile launcher.
Oshkosh improved its concrete line in 1982 with the appearance of the S-Series. This series made a mixer and a chassis available as a single unit, allowing the ready-mix producer to purchase and receive fuel support from one source. Meanwhile, defense contracts poured in, including a 1984 deal to provide the U.S. Air Force with 715 P-19 ARFF vehicles. The following year, John Carroll became the company's president. That year, Oshkosh delivered 1,400 Logistics Vehicle Systems (LVS) trucks to the U.S. Marines. Like the HEMTT, the LVS was a multipurpose vehicle. It had a variety of rear sections that could be detached and interchanged. In 1986 the Air Force ordered 787 R-11 aircraft refuelers from Oshkosh, a contract worth $78 million over three years. Spurred by this steady stream of military contracts, Oshkosh saw its revenues soar during this period. From $86 million in 1982, sales climbed remarkably steadily each year to $400 million in 1986. The company's net income advanced even more impressively, from $3.4 million to $24.8 million in the same span. Oshkosh had not had a losing year since 1930.
In 1985 Oshkosh went public. By 1987 Oshkosh employed 1,700 workers at six plants throughout Oshkosh. Stephen Mosling and Peter Mosling own approximatley 85 percent of the company's class A stock, which elects three quarters of the board of directors. The portion of Oshkosh's revenues derived from government contracts had reached 85 percent by 1987, compared to 40 percent five years earlier. At the end of the 1980s, efforts were made to restore the balance between civilian and military manufacturing. In 1989 Oshkosh acquired the motor home chassis business of Deere and Co. The Deere division had sales around $100 million. Oshkosh diversified further in 1990 with the purchase of Miller Trailers Inc. and Miller Ventures, Inc. for about $14 million.
Military contracts did not entirely dry up for Oshkosh. In January of 1990 the U.S. Army awarded Oshkosh the contract for more than 1000 M-1070 Heavy Equipment Transporters, whose main function is hauling tanks. In September of 1990 Oshkosh won another Army contract, this one for 2,626 Palletized Load System (PLS) vehicles. The PLS truck is ten-wheel driven and can carry 16.5 tons of cargo. In 1990 Oshkosh lost $2.8 million on revenue of $453 million. Sales were down in every segment of the business except for chassis, while operating expenses rose 41 percent. Oshkosh was affected dramatically in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm. In both 1990 and 1991 earnings were held back by the costs associated with starting up new projects, most of them military. For 1991, however, Oshkosh did manage to turn a profit of $755,000 even though revenue dropped to $420 million. The company was also hurt by the ongoing recession in the construction industry, slowing sales of ready-mix concrete equipment.
Under company chairman and chief executive R. Eugene Goodson, Oshkosh rebounded somewhat in 1992. Without product development costs, sales jumped to $641 million, and net income for the year was $8.8 million. As reductions in the defense budget of the United States government become increasingly likely, Oshkosh Truck's future growth will most likely depend on its ability to more actively shift focus to its commercial markets. The company introduced a refuse/recycling truck to lessen its dependence on military business. Yet an overall revival of the building industry would be the most convenient way for such a shift to take place, ensuring future customers for Oshkosh's large, nonmilitary vehicles.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 7. St. James Press, 1993.