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A leader from the very beginning. That’s our story. When Great Dane first began making trailers, we quickly earned a reputation that would span the eastern seaboard. But Great Doesn’t Stop.
With decade upon decade of innovation, our trailers have served thousands of customers on rural routes and busy highways throughout North America.
Crafters of Sheet Metal
By 1916, Great Dane is no longer simply a blowpipe systems supplier. To meet growing customer demand, the company begins fabricating light structural steel and steel plate products at its new 10,000 square foot manufacturing facility in downtown Savannah.
The two dozen workers at the Lathrop plant employ a 10-ton traveling crane, a blacksmith facility, and the latest cutting and punching tools to form steel for its growing list of customers. The Lathrop Avenue location would run strong for the better part of a century.
This is an original image of the first blow pipe factory in Savannah, GA from the early 1900’s.
Road to Opportunity
It’s easy to take our nation’s highways for granted. But it wasn’t always that way. With our country still reeling from the Great Depression, president Franklin Roosevelt needed to get people working again. One way was by expanding our U.S. Interstate system—something he believed was critical to our economy and our national defense. Seizing the opportunity, our company chairman, George Mercer, approves the design of the original Great Dane trailer for over-the-road freight hauling.
Responding to highway weight restrictions aimed at haulers, the company develops lightweight tank trailers and van trailers made from high-tensile steel. An exceptionally lightweight stressed skin van becomes the company’s flagship product.
Our country has been through a lot over the years. Along the way, Great Dane has been trusted to keep it moving forward. Even in times of war.
With a reputation for building them out of high-tensile steel, Great Dane proves to be the right partner to have, especially with lives on the line.
To build its game-changing trailer, the company reaches out to the best trailer man in the business, William Lowndes. A resident of Greenville, South Carolina, Lowndes and his employees are credited with the name Great Dane. Known for hauling milk carts long distances, the loyal Belgium breed is the perfect embodiment of this new breed of trailer.
The first Great Dane trailers are 16- to 20-foot-long flatbed trailers, with single axles and payload capacities of three to six tons.
Sign Of Things To Come
To more accurately reflect its vast portfolio of steel-formed products, the company changes its name to the Steel Product Company.
Our country has been through a lot over the years. Along the way, Great Dane has been trusted to keep it moving forward. Even in times of war. During World War II, Great Dane is handpicked to manufacture military-grade trailers. With a reputation for building them out of high-tensile steel, Great Dane proves to be the right partner to have, especially with lives on the line.
Army Navy E for Excellence
With scores of heavy-duty trailers aiding the war effort, Great Dane earns the prestigious Army Navy E For Excellence on five separate occasions.
Innovation On Ice
As demand for U.S. produce increases, Great Dane innovates. Using a gas engine and blower system to circulate air over blocks of ice, Great Dane refrigerated trailers, known simply as reefers, make it possible for thousands of Americans to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table.
Always A Better Answer
To help preserve our nation’s roadways, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act sets limits on the size and weight of trucks and trailers. Great Dane is more than happy to comply. In fact, we not only begin building our trailers longer and bigger to hold more payload, we also make them lighter.
By 1956 Great Dane would have sales outlets in 18 states and 31 U.S. cities.
A Brand Is Born
In 1958 we officially change our name from the Steel Products Company to Great Dane Trailers, a name that reflects our past and our future. To underscore the change, a red background is added to the signature Great Dane logo.
Going All In
Comprised primarily of lightweight aluminum, Great Dane redesigns its line of van trailers and creates a new lineup of tank trailers. They are so well received the company phases out all structural steel products. By decade’s end Great Dane is 100% in the trailer business.
Taking Alternate Routes
With companies finding new ways to carry freight—shipping “piggyback” trailers on railroad flatcars and “fishyback” containers for maritime cargo—Great Dane completes its first piggyback trailer order. The company follows this up two years later with its first maritime container order.
Serving The Eastern Seaboard
Great Dane blankets the Eastern U.S. with sales outlets in 24 states. Direct piggyback and maritime container sales are made with companies like the Fruit Growers Express Company, the Chesapeake & Ohio R.R. Co., Xtra, Inc. and the Grace Line.
Expanding Into Europe
In 1966 Great Dane enters into European manufacturing agreements with Adamson & Hatchett, Ltd. of Dukinfield, Cheshire, England to serve the British Commonwealth nations, and with Van Hool & Fils of Koningshooikt, Belgium to serve the European market. This same year, Great Dane announces a $2M expansion program that doubles trailer production.
In 1967 Great Dane becomes a subsidiary of United States Freight Company (soon to become the Transway International Corporation), the world’s largest freight forwarder.
With the purchase of Arrow Trailers in Memphis, Tennessee, Great Dane now has its second manufacturing facility. Dedicated to platform trailers, production at the Memphis plant has increased nearly twofold.
Putting Brazil On The Map
Great Dane builds a new dry van manufacturing plant in Brazil, Indiana—an ideal location for serving Western and Midwestern trailer markets. The plant would then double its output in 1978 with the addition of refrigerated trailer production.
Up To The Test
In I974 Great Dane breaks new ground with its Research & Development Lab. Here, space-age road simulation equipment exposes trailers to 10 year’s worth of wear and tear in a matter of weeks.
With our Brazil plant taking on production of straight frame, aluminum, and FRP dry freight vans, Savannah steps up its reefer van capacity. New insulating technology adds to the cause.
Ramping Up Production
In a period of explosive growth, Great Dane expands into international markets, including Canada, England, Turkey, Mexico, and South America.
Our Brazil plant expands in 1984 to include a large order line for trailers and, one year later, a Composite Panel Plant to manufacture Fiberglass Reinforced Panels and similar products. A new Parts Distribution Center would also begin serving the Western aftermarket.
Robotic welding is introduced to our Memphis plant. Plasma arch cutting would follow shortly after.
International Controls Corp acquires Great Dane’s parent company in 1986, making an even deeper commitment to truck-trailer manufacturing.
Experimental trailers undergo over-the-road service to gain data prior to the introduction of the ThermaCube reefer in January of 1988.
In 1988 Great Dane acquires the SuperSeal reefer production plant in Wayne, Nebraska—a move that creates the broadest line of reefers in the industry.
State-Of-The-Art Testing & Design
Computer-driven Road Simulation Equipment is installed at the company’s Research & Development Lab—the only one of its kind still operating today. This is followed closely by the introduction of Finite Element Analysis software, which proves essential in achieving optimum strength-to-weight product design.
International Controls Corp merges with Checker Holding Corp in 1989. Meanwhile, another Parts Distribution Center opens in Memphis.
The 90’s are an ambitious period for Great Dane. In 1996 the company opens a dry van plant and parts distribution center in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Great Dane merges with Pines Trailer in 1997, creating Great Dane Limited Partnership—one of the world’s largest trailer companies.
Nearing 100 years in business, Great Dane begins modernizing its branches. In the process, our Little Rock location goes from a sales office to a full-service branch, complete with parts and service bays. Branches in Charlotte, North Carolina, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Dallas, Texas would soon follow.
Celebrating the Century Mark
With the new millennium, Great Dane reaches a rare milestone: 100 years.
One year later the company acquires Strick’s Eastern Van Manufacturing facilities in Danville, Pennsylvania and Abbeville, South Carolina and two of Trailmobile’s manufacturing facilities in Jonesboro, Arkansas and Charleston, Illinois. Their proximity to existing plants helps the company to better serve the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.
SSL Dry Freight Van Makes Its Debut
Offering considerably less maintenance than plate and composite wall trailers, the SSL dry freight van’s sheet-and-post construction with patented steel-lined interior walls brings unmatched durability and cargo protection. Introduced in 2002, the versatile interior lining can be converted based on the products being hauled.
Featuring a high-tech paint booth, more service bays, expanded parts warehouses, and plenty of yard space, Charlotte’s complete service experience sets the pace for all to follow. This led to grand openings in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania and Dallas, Texas.
In 2004 Great Dane announces the acquisition of a Huntsville, Tennessee plant previously owned by Wabash National Corporation. Within the year, the Freedom line and other platform trailers kick off production.
All-time Company Record
By 2006 nearly 33 percent of the market demand for refrigerated vans and more than 28 percent of dry freight vans are fulfilled by Great Dane. In total, more than 60,000 trailers ship from our nine factories. In terms of dry freight sales, SSL models make up nearly 15 percent of the industry’s total shipments.
For nearly a century the Savannah plant supplied the transportation industry with the most innovative, highest quality reefer products available. Economic strains and the need for more efficient production factor into the decision to shut it down and build a new plant in nearby Statesboro, Georgia.
The Road Ahead
The future looks bright for a company that has steered forward and risen to the occasion for more than a century.
Great Dane is ready for the road ahead as we find new ways to help industries transport their goods across American highways.
With 120 years of history, Great Dane is looking to new and innovative ways to meet our customers’ needs and accelerate technology.
Great Dane officially drops the word “trailers” from our name to better reflect our complete lineup of transportation solutions. In addition to the Freedom XP all-aluminum flatbed, Great Dane now offers the Alpine and Sahara truck bodies. Meanwhile, our dry vans become known as Champion, reefers as Everest, and flatbeds as Freedom. Finally, a new oval logo is added to the back of all refers and dry vans.
Growing By Leaps & Bounds
Always finding ways to grow, Great Dane opens a reefer plant in Statesboro, Georgia in 2010, then acquires Johnson Refrigerated Truck Bodies. We take another step forward in 2016, opening our sixth dry van plant, this one located in Elysburg, Pennsylvania.
ThermoGuard Sets The Bar
Moving away from brittle thermoset trailer linings, Great Dane invests in its own proprietary technology. This includes ThermoGuard, a lining that quickly earns a worldwide patent and sets the bar for thermal efficiency, durability, and cost savings.
The Future Of Goods Mobility
Great Dane is in the midst of yet another transformation: from a trailer company to a goods mobility company. Driven by data, our FleetPulse Smart Trailer System is putting all the information you need right at your fingertips, from yard operations and delivery to cargo protection and compliance. Now more than ever, running with Great Dane means running smarter—year upon year, mile after mile.
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