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The evolution of the forklift in ten images

KION Group celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2016, which is reason enough to reflect on the past. However, we are not talking about just our short past, but the longer one involving how forklift trucks and intralogistics have evolved over the last several decades.


Did you know that the Euro pallet revolutionized warehouse work, that forklifts operators have not always enjoyed unobscured views, and that tomorrow's vehicles will not even need an operatorr? Have a look at ten images that tell the story of the forklift.

1. Before the forklift (early 20th Century)

Hand trucks and pulleys. Over a century ago, muscle power was used to move goods and materials in warehouses and factories. It was not until the 1920s that the first trucks with a loading platform arrived on the scene. Needless to say, they quickly caught on. A powered lift tractor with a platform up front, developed in 1917, is widely considered to be the precursor of the modern-day forklift. However, it has little in common with today's forklifts. Important components such as the mast were still missing. That same year, the US-made Baker brand, which would eventually be acquired by Linde, developed a truck that used a pulley to lift and transport loads.

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2. The first pallet stackers (1920s)

1926: French manufacturer Fenwick unveils a 'truck with lifting platform'. It was the first pallet stacker. In its marketing, Fenwick notes that the truck solved countless problems when transporting materials and was suitable for loading heavy goods onto vehicles, trains and warehouse racking. Fenwick continues to be a pioneer in warehouse technology. Its Châtellerault production facility is KION Group's largest European site for developing warehouse technology products.

3. STILL bets on electric drives (1940s)

1946: STILL launches the EK 2000, an electric trolley with a load capacity of two metric tons, marking the launch of the Hamburg-based company into the industrial trucks market. Several years later in 1951, Italy's OM brings out its first truck with an internal combustion engine.

4. Linde develops the hydrostatic drive (1950s)

The Hydrocar becomes the first production vehicle with a hydrostatic drive. It is used as a nimble transporter in industry and commerce. Several years later it is replaced by the Hubtrac, the first forklift with a hydrostatic drive. Since it used oil pressure to convert the drive engine into rotational movement, the truck offers smooth operating, simple and precise handling, reduced wear and a high level of safety right from the start. From 1985 to 2002 Linde's E20 to E35 series forklifts, with their enhanced and more compact hydrostatic drive, were the bestselling trucks in Europe.

5. The Euro pallet revolutionizes logistics (1960s)

1960s: Several European railways sign a standardized pallet agreement; the Euro pallet. The European freight industry was revolutionized in a single stroke. Forklifts and Euro pallets were the perfect match in the logistics industry. Because the Euro pallet is 4-way, a forklift can pick it up from any side. When loading and unloading, it takes employees only around a tenth of the time previously needed. Interestingly, the pallet is one of the few daily work objects that looks exactly the same now as it did when it was first itroduced over 50 years ago.

Image: photo 5000/

6. Side-access battery replacement (1970s)

For a long time, replacing a battery was a very complex undertaking. Occasionally, a crane was even required to replace the heavy batteries, which also served as a counterweight in the vehicles. In the 1970s, STILL introduced an electric forklift, the R9, whose battery casing could be opened from the side. However, previous models date back as far as the 1950s. The replacement process was easier and also resulted in improved uptime and better health and safety. Side-access battery replacement remains a hallmark of STILL vehicles, including in the RX20 electric forklifts.

7. Freeing up an operator's view (1970s)

Sometimes, it is seemingly small ideas that can bring on a revolution. STILL's 'free view lift mast' is one of them. Previously, forklifts offered only restricted visibility since their functionality was considered more important than what the operator could see. The innovation made the vehicles much safer and easier to operate. It is just one of the many innovations that the KION Group brands have delivered over the past several decades. The Linde Roadster has improved upward visibility with its design without A-pillar and its transparent cab roof, allowing for the potential to be used in airports.

8. Innovative drive technologies (2000s)

Energy from hydrogen: In 2000, Linde unveiled the prototype for a fuel cell forklift at CeMAT. Three years later, the first STILL truck fitted with a fuel cell was used at Munich's international airport as a prototype. KION Group's premium brands demonstrated they had a sharp eye for future trends. Today, entire fleets of fuel cell forklifts can be found operating in warehouses the world over. KION's brands are also at the cutting edge when it comes to other drive technologies, including diesel electric hybrid drives and lithium-ion batteries.

9. The forklift meets automation (Today)

Forklifts are learning how to communicate with each other and even how to operate autonomously. Today's trucks are fitted with sensors and electronics that deliver a constant stream of data to fleet management systems such as Linde connect:. Some trucks don't even need an operator. Linde now has forklifts that can navigate on their own and STILL's iGo neo order picker automatically follows its operator. STILL has also unveiled its cubeXX concept vehicle, a 6-in-1 industrial truck that changes its form depending on the task.

10. The future: Intralogistics 4.0

The truck becomes part of a greater whole: With the rapidly increasing flow of goods and the need to digitally transform, it is becoming increasingly important for industrial trucks, machinery and deviceses as well as employees to seamlessly communicate with each other. Some may call it "Industry 4.0", but in our business, we think of it as "Intralogistics 4.0". The KION Group brands are researching and developing end-to-end system solutions for automated and networked warehouses. In fact, KION brand Dematic is a software pioneer when it comes to automating and networking entire warehouse systems.

Image Gallery

The history of the forklift truck in ten pictures


Before the forklift: hand trucks and pulleys ( /


The first pallet stackers


STILL puts its faith in electric drives


Linde develops the hydrostatic drive


The Euro-pallet revolutionizes logistics (photo 5000/


Side-access battery replacement


Freeing up the driver's view


Innovative drive technologies


The forklift becomes autonomous


Intralogistics 4.0