History of Towing

History of Towing

An article in The Atlantic got me interested in creating this post.

Who knew that Chattanooga is the Birthplace of the towing industry!? It took one motivated man, dedicated to help improve what was at the time a service performed using a lot of man power, and taking up a lot more time and effort.

The need for towing services did not arise at the same time as gasoline automobile sales began. The first gasoline powered, USA built vehicles were commercially sold in 1896 by the Duryea Brother’s according to this article from About.com.

It took nearly 20 years since then for a towing vehicle to make an appearance in the USA. Ernest Holmes Sr. is touted with the original design and construction. What was once a job performed by hand, was revolutionized by adding the internal combustion engine into the mix. The prototype was a 1913 Cadillac fashioned with a wrecker, with the final design being patented in 1919.


In 1916 a Ford Model T driver lost control of his vehicle and ended up driving into the Chickamauga Creek running through the Chattanooga area. Holmes built his wrecker and drove over to the scene of the accident, but when he put the tow truck to the test, the prototype failed! He realized the wrecker needed to be stabilized with a set of outriggers, which the final 1919 design had. It allegedly took 10 men up to 8 hours to extract the vehicle from it’s watery trap.

Holmes’s first successful line of towing vehicles was the 485, which was basically an outrigger which could be attached to any vehicle. It cost $485 as it’s name would suggest. It’s predecessor, the 685 didn’t fair as well, mostly because of it’s cost, which was $685.



A 1913 locomobile worth $6,000 coupled to a Holmes 485 outrigger now rests at the International Towing and Recovery Museum, and is allegedly worth a quarter million dollars!

1913 Locomobile with the Homes 4-Ton Wrecker @ International Towing and Recovery Museum, Chattanooga, TN

Of course, today towing has become a much more high tech industry with tow trucks and flat bed wreckers, operated completely by hydraulics and electrical switches.

Flatbed Tow Truck S10 on bedSide By Side

To find out more about Ernest Holmes Sr, follow this link from failuremag.com, and here ia a link to  The Museum of Towing and Recovery