Zachow and Besserdich developed and built the first successful four-wheel drive (4x4) car, the "Battleship", in 1908. Its success led to the founding of the company. "Badger" was dropped from the name in 1910, and the name was changed to the FWD Corporation in 1958.
The success of the four-wheel drive in early military tests prompted the company to switch from cars to trucks. In two world wars, U.S. and Allied armies depended on such four-wheel drive vehicles.
FWD vehicles were made with a track width of 4 ft 8½in so they could quickly be used on a standard gauge railway line merely by changing the wheels.
A British subsidiary was set up at Slough in 1921. In 1926, the British FWD, also known as the Quad, was produced with a larger 70 bhp engine.
A Canadian subsidiary was set up in conjunction with Dominion Truck of Kitchener, Ontario by 1919.
A relationship with premier race car constructor Harry Miller resulted in the Four Wheel Drive Miller that competed successfully at Indianapolis in 1931 and later. This car, with lockable center differential, is arguably the first modern all wheel drive car. One example survives and has competed in premier vintage race car meets such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. "The Last Great Miller" by Griffith Borgeson gives a complete history of this landmark car.
In 1932, AEC took a controlling interest in the British company and began to use more standard AEC components in the Slough-built vehicles. To distinguish these from imported U.S. FWD vehicles, they were marketed under the name Hardy. Production ceased about 1936, but AEC exploited its experience with all-wheel drive in its Second World War Matador (4x4) and Marshall (6x6) vehicles.
In 1963, FWD acquired Seagrave Fire Apparatus who then moved from their old location in Columbus, Ohio, to their current location at FWD in Clintonville, Wisconsin. Many tower ladders in the 1990s using Seagrave chassis were branded as FWD. They used Baker Aerialscopes for the boom which FWD had also acquired over the years along with Almonte Fire Trucks.
Randolph Lenz, Chair of FWD's parent company, Corsta Corp., became embroiled in a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation suit and in 2003 all assets of FWD: FWD Corporation, Seagrave, Baker Aerialscope and Almonte Fire Trucks were sold to an investment group headed by former American LaFrance executive James Hebe. Today, the Seagrave group is a flagship company of ELB Capital Management.
In the 10 years before the business was sold, the Murray’s worked mainly as saw millers and concentrated on hauling their own logs from the tableland to their mill at Balgownie. With a 1946 Ford five-tonner, an FWD and an old Albion they hauled logs up to 40 feet long down the notorious Macquarie Pass without ever having a mishap. Most of the early trucks were fitted with cable brakes and Arthur said these were sheer murder, claiming you could always tell when they were fitted to a truck by the big dent in the back of the driver’s seat from pushing the brake pedal to the floor!
An unusual concept, the “Improved Truck Loader” was patented by in 1949 by NSW haulage contractor George Short. Short was one of many transport operators who purchased vehicles cheaply at the massive Army disposal sales that took place after WW2. He purchased an FWD model HAR-1 body truck and built a front loading bucket (scoop) onto the front of the truck and converted the army GS body to a tipping trailer. The truck was not only able to load itself, it could load other trucks. At the time most of the trucks working in road repairs in NSW were still being loaded and unloaded by teams of up to 20 men with shovels and here was a truck that was driven, loaded and unloaded by a single operator in a fraction of the time.
FWD trucks were not well known in Australia. They were manufactured by the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company of Wisconsin, US, which supplied hundreds of heavy duty models of its civilian range for the war effort. These included the SU cabover, and several bonnetted 4x4s, one of which was the HAR- 1 model which George purchased. The design of the FWD was simple: Strength, durability and reliability were more important than lightness, speed and fuel economy. Powered by a Waukesha six-cylinder, side- valve engine and driving through a five-speed Fuller gearbox and a single-speed transfer case to all four wheels, it was considered a big truck for its day.
The mudguards were made of angle iron and steel plate. The steel cabin featured a canvas roof but no doors. So solid was the FWD that some drivers found difficulty lifting its heavy bonnet. While its heavy construction was an advantage on the battle field, it did not impress civilian truck operators. Its payload was only four tons on the road and 2’12 tons cross country.
However, George Short was an innovative man and he saw potential in the FWD where others did not. Having left school at the age of 14, George had no formal engineering training, but with his brother in-law, Alby (Tom) Palmer he embarked on an ambitious project to build a truck capable of loading itself and other trucks with sand, gravel and soil. Road maintenance at that time required gangs of up to 20 labourers with shovels to load the trucks. It was a slow, back-breaking and arduous task and one that George Short thought could be overcome with a bit of ingenuity.
George and Alby began by converting the army GS timber body to a tipper by fitting a power take-off and hydraulic ram. He then devised a means by which the truck could load itself. The devise consisted of a scoop attached by arms on either side of the truck. The arms pivoted on a connecting axle which rotated in bearings mounted under the chassis.
The scoop was operated by a front mounted winch through a series of rollers and pulleys. After filling the scoop with sand or earth the winch was used to pull the scoop up and over the cab and dump the load into the tipping body. The FWD truck loader was also capable of loading other trucks in much the same way a front end loader fitted to a tractor could do.
The truck loader gave the FWD capabilities far beyond any other single vehicle of its time. It combined the functions of a front end loader and a truck in one fast, road registered vehicle. It could pick up and deliver sand and gravel, clear and level land, demolish buildings and even form roads. The DMR was quick to realise the advantages of the innovation. Other con tractors were sent out with gangs of labourers, laden with picks and shovels, George was sent out in his FWD truck by himself.
The FWD is yet another truck I had never heard of before. They were made by the Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. of Clintonville in Wisconsin. I discovered in The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles, that Otto Zachow and his brother-in-law William Besserdich, invented a double Y universal joint encased in a ball and socket joint which allowed power to be applied to the front driving wheels of a car and still be steered. The pair gave away patent rights to the invention in return for shares in the newly formed FWD company, whose initial output in 1912, included a 2 ton truck and seven cars. The First War World saw the Company grow and they produced 15,000 three ton trucks for the US Armed Forces. In 1937 they produced the first four door ‘crew cab’ trucks. Early on, FWDs were developed for specialized purposes such as snow ploughs, road maintenance, fire trucks and the oil fields, and they continued to make trucks for specialized use until the 1990s. William Besserdich left FWD around 1917 and became the first President of the Oshkosh Company.