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How Forklifts Work


Forklift History
Forklifts can be outfitted with different attachments, such as for carrying barrels instead of lifting pallets, and each type of forklift class is designed for certain types of loads and specific working conditions.
Forklifts can be outfitted with different attachments, such as for carrying barrels instead of lifting pallets, and each type of forklift class is designed for certain types of loads and specific working conditions.
©iStockphoto.com/josemoraes

Just like many other inventions, the forklift was born out of necessity. In 1917 the Clark Company, manufacturers of axles, created a truck called the Tructractor to move materials around their factory. As people visited the factory and saw the Tructractor at work they placed orders from Clark to build Tructractors for their companies. A few years later the first hydraulic powered lift was added to some trucks to give them lifting power. In 1923, Yale was the first company to use forks that lifted loads off the ground and an elevated mast that could extend beyond the height of the truck. The Yale truck is considered to be the first forklift [source: MHEDA Journal].

A few developments helped the forklift to increase in production including the introduction of the standardized pallet in 1930 and World War II. Both of these developments increased production of forklifts and allowed distributors the means to efficiently move heavy loads. As the use of forklifts increased so did the amount of hours they were being used. Shortly after forklifts became prevalent, they were designed with a rechargeable battery that could last 8 hours.

In the 1950s warehouses expanded upward instead of out so forklifts were designed to lift loads up to 50 feet (15.2 meters), which was higher than ever before. With the increased load height, certain safety measures to were applied to the forklift during this time including a cage for drivers to prevent them falling materials and a backrest to help keep the load in place as it's lifted. More safety measures were introduced in the 1980s including the operator safety restraint and developments in forklift balance technology.

On the next page, we'll talk about the basic elements that make up a forklift and how they all work together.