History of Tow Trucks

history of tow truck

Wreckers, Breakdown trucks, Recovery Trucks and Tow Trucks all came from Earnest Holmes Senior of Chattanooga, Tennessee where the international towing museum is based. Holmes invented the tow truck after he had to tow a vehicle out of a river using six men, ropes and wood.

This experience resulted in Holmes going back at his shop and he outfitted a three-year-old Cadillac with a crane and pulley system that would lift broken-down and wrecked vehicles and secure them for a tow back to a nearby mechanic’s shop. After refining the idea with a pair of outriggers to provide stability while hoisting other vehicles, Holmes filed for a patent for his idea (US Patent 1254804) in November 1917.

Holmes then refocused his business to building Holmes Wrecker tow trucks and selling them to other mechanics and garage operators, advertising them as a means of literally capturing more business. Indeed, he became a rather prolific inventor afterward, patenting about a dozen improvements on the general tow truck theme as well as at least another half-dozen vehicle lifts, creepers, and jacks before his death in 1945.

Today there are many different types of towing equipment that are affixed to different cab and chassis. The boom or Heavy Duty is used for large accidents such as tractor-trailer rollovers or getting a vehicle that fell into an inaccessible ditch. The Heavy Duty Jerr-Dan 60 Ton Rotator extends its boom out to 43 feet at a 50-degree elevation. The boom can lift 24,600 pounds and can rotate 225 degrees while lifting 53,000 pounds; which is 7,000 pounds more than a typical steel coil.

Many wreckers and car carriers utilize Wheel- Lifts. These are basically large L shaped pieces of metal that come out of the back of the tow truck and suck in the tires of the vehicle being towed. The hydraulics then lifts the vehicle up off the ground so it can be towed.

The flat bed or car carrier or rollback is put onto a cab and chassis set up. This allows for the cab and chassis to have a bed that hydraulically moves up and down, and declines to ground level. This is all done easily with a winch that is operated on the side of the truck.

The wrecker goes by self-loader, snatcher, quick pic or repo truck. The boom and wheel lift are put onto a cab and chassis. This is typically put on a light or medium duty truck. The length of the tow truck allow for it to get into tight areas in the city and easily hook trucks quickly.

Read more about the different kinds of towing.

If you are looking for a tow truck close by, you can use the map on carrecoverynearme.net that trucks the tow trucks in real time.

The independent tow truck operators are experienced and able to deal with most situations that disable a vehicle and require the use of a tow truck for a safe onward journey.


  1.  “Ernest Holmes Dies Suddenly”. Chattanooga Times. June 11, 1945.
  2.  “Ernest W. Holmes Sr”International Towing Museum. Retrieved February 17, 2016.
  3.  “Hell on the Highway Facts”National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 2016-02-23.
  4.  “Made in Chattannooga”timesfreepress.com. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  5.  “Holmes Wrecker King”. Chattanooga Times. August 23, 1942.
  6.  Herring, Warren (October 22, 1972). “Wreckers During the War”. Chattanooga National Free Press, pg 12.
  7.  “Ernest Holmes At Indy500”. Chattanooga Times,pg 48. April 14, 1977.