Peterbilt Motors Company, founded in 1939 in Oakland, California, is an American manufacturer of medium- and heavy-duty Class 5 through to Class 8 trucks. A subsidiary of Paccar, which also owns its longtime competitor Kenworth, it operates manufacturing facilities and has its headquarters in Denton, Texas. It also has a factory in Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec.
From 1939 until the mid-1980s, the company was based in the East Bay area of Northern California. The original plant was in Oakland, which closed and in 1960 in a movee to nearby Newark. Truck production moved to Denton, Texas at the close of 1986, but division headquarters and engineering remained there until 1992, when a new administrative complex and engineering department at the Denton plant were completed. The Madison/Nashville plant opened in 1969 in Madison, Tennessee, for the east-coast market. Originally it only manufactured the 352/282 cabover, then conventional production began in the 1970s, until it was closed in 2009. Production of class 8 trucks continues at the Denton, Texas plant.
In the first third of the 20th century logs for the lumber industry were floated downriver, hauled with steam tractors, or horse teams. Tacoma, Washington plywood manufacturer and lumberman T.A. Peterman could not get his felled inventory to his lumber mill quickly or efficiently enough to suit his needs, so he looked at the then-nascent automobile technology for logging trucks that could do the job.
Peterman began by rebuilding surplus army trucks, improving the technology with each successive vehicle, such as replacing crank starters with battery powered ones. In he 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, he purchased the assets of Fageol Motors of Oakland, California, which had gone into receivership in 1932. With the ability to turn out custom built chassis Peterman initially produced two chain-drive logging trucks, which proved unsuccessful. In 1939 he began selling his trucks to the public.
T. A. Peterman died in 1944. His wife, Ida, sold the company to seven individuals within the organization, but retained its land. They expanded it into a major producer of heavy-duty trucks. In 1958, Ida Peterman announced plans to sell the property to develop a shopping center. The shareholders, not wanting to invest in a new manufacturing facility, sold the company in June 1958 to Pacific Car & Foundry Co., then primarily a manufacturer of railroad freight cars, which had acquired the assets of heavy truck competitor Kenworth in 1944. One year later, Pacific Car and Foundry started construction of a modern 176,000-square-foot (16,400 m2) manufacturing facility in Newark, Calif. In August, 1960 Peterbilt moved to the new facility and became a division of the parent firm. Pacific Car and Foundry Co. changed its name officially to PACCAR in 1971.
A 1955 Peterbilt 281
Peterbilt 386 (2009)
Peterbilt model numbers traditionally started with a “2” for single drive rear axle tag axle models, and with a “3” for dual drive rear axle model from 1939 until 1981 with the 362. Peterbilt eliminated this distinction in the late 1970s