White Motors Heavy Duty Trucks -Baselines
One of the oldest, largest, and most respected nameplates in the trucking industry during the last century was White Motors of Cleveland. Regarded as one of the big-10 producers, the famous marquee was actually started as a subsidiary of the world-renowned White Sewing Machine Co.
In 1859, Thomas White, an excellent self-taught machinist, began production of his hand-operated sewing machine in Massachusetts. Following the trend of others moving to the Midwest, his tiny company settled on the banks of the Great Lakes in Cleveland in 1876. The new central location made product distribution and exposure to new markets much easier. Fourteen years later, his successful market share made it possible for him to expand into the wildly popular bicycle market. The 1890s also marked the beginning of another fad: the automobile.
White's sons, already involved in the family business, persuaded their father to allow them to investigate and produce a self-propelled automobile prototype. Both brothers traveled to Europe to explore the established steam-powered miracle machines in the French automotive market. Rollin White, a seasoned engineer, returned to develop his flash-boiler, a unit that was safer and faster in steam production than competitive makes.
As the tiny American automotive market began to flourish, the brothers set up an automotive department at White. With White machine-component engineers assisting, 1899 saw its first product: the White steam-powered automobile. This first unit was a two-cylinder, undercarriage-mounted affair, utilizing tiller steering and chaindrive. A small delivery truck, dubbed the Pie Wagon, followed, and with superior craftsmanship, product awareness, and sales success, the new subsidiary-White Motor Car Co.-emerged.
Rollin, Windsor, and Walter White quickly expanded the brand image of their steam-powered platforms. The brothers soon realized, however, that gasoline-powered units were becoming more popular, and in 1910, they dropped the boiler-along with the rest of the field. The company continued its reputation for expensive, high-quality, and rugged cars and light trucks. A 3-ton truck model, the GTA, appeared with a 30hp engine and chaindrive. In 1912, the 5-ton TC was added.
When hostilities broke out in Europe at the start of World War I, the company rapidly became involved in the production of converted civilian vehicles for military use; 18,000 of these platforms were produced. Though White produced large numbers of converted civilian vehicles for the U.S. Army, it was Czar Nicholas of Russia who ordered a vast fleet of trucks, which generated much positive publicity for the company. At the war's conclusion in 1918, White found itself in the enviable position of capturing 10 percent of the U.S. truck market and focusing entirely on its truck operations.
The roaring '20s continued profitable growth for White, with many employees considering the company a family affair. White's first six-cylinder platform, the 3-ton Model 59, appeared in 1928; 10-ton, three-axle versions followed in 1930. By 1929, however, the company faced several problems. Walter White died in a car accident, and the family engineer, Rollin, left to start the Cleveland Tractor Co. The employees, unhappy with the sudden changes, unionized in 1933. Several missteps included a brief merger with Studebaker-Pierce Arrow and the purchase of the Indiana Truck Co. from Brockway Trucks.
Following a board decision to return to independence, Robert Fager Black was appointed company head in 1935. Excellent with workers and the union alike, Black slowly began to return White to profitability. 1935 also marked the introduction of the heavy-duty 730, the company's first cabover. This novel platform was powered by a 7.6L (464ci) opposed-piston, horizontal, 12-cylinder engine. The powerplant was a smaller version of an 8.3L version utilized in buses in 1932; tilt-cab, 800-series versions of the truck appeared in 1937. The 700/800 replacements were branded the WA-series and appeared in 1940. With hostilities in Europe on the horizon again, the company began designing and building the Army's famous M3 scout car. Half-track derivatives along with heavy-duty, Deuce-series trucks for the Allies were added. When World War II ended, the company again looked at its market and concluded that its future would be in the heavy-duty truck market. White's WB-series truck was marketed until its WC replacement appeared in 1949.
The company's next platform, the futuristic 3000-series, featured a cabover design that was equipped with a motorized tilting system. The novel platform featured a set-back powerplant and a flat-cab floor. Although diesel versions were offered, gasoline engines were the most popular because the diesel engines had cooling problems.
In 1951, the company began another purchasing program when it picked up Sterling. Several platforms were marketed as Sterling-Whites until 1953, and the Autocar brand was purchased that same year. In addition, the company had an agreement with Freightliner Corp. to sell and service its line under the White Freightliner brand. This agreement ended in 1977.
White bought Lansing, Michigan's REO brand in 1957. When the Diamond-T line was purchased in 1958, both marquees were combined to form a new subsidiary called Diamond-REO. White also entered into a private-label agreement with Consolidated Freightways of Oregon to sell the CF brand to its dealer organization, with CF renaming these units White-Consolidated Freightways trucks.
White upgraded its own brand with a new forward-control, 5000-series in 1959. Diesel powerplants became standard with this series.
The company experienced a string of negatives in the '60s, and its debt ratio increased. Management attempted to merge with its old parent, White Consolidated Industries, a descendent of White Sewing Machine, but the move was blocked by the government. New management seemed to be the answer, so the company turned to Semon "Bunkie" Knudson, former executive of General Motors and then-current president of Ford. White, for a short time, returned to profitability with the introduction of a new truck line and the establishment of new nonunion factories in Virginia and Utah.
A new 4000-series conventional truck made its appearance in 1966. Two years later, the White Western Star brand of conventional trucks also appeared. This line was produced in British Columbia exclusively for the western market. In the early '70s, the company began experimenting with gasoline-converted diesel engines based on a Cummins design. Dubbed the White Giesels, these novel powerplants were considered a failure. Over the next several years, the company (like its competition) purchased standard diesel engines from Cummins, Cat, and Detroit Diesel.
Sales continued to slide, and the company again looked for immediate suitors for survival. White Consolidated was again approached with the blessing of the federal government, but its stockholders voted against the deal. The company sought out partners for mergers and began selling off its subsidiary operations. White was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1980, with its manufacturing plants sold off to the Swedish company, Volvo.
In August 1981, the Volvo White Truck Corp. emerged. The new company continued to market the White label and added new models. 1983 found the introduction of the White Conventional, and the new platform featured a longer hood design. It replaced the earlier Road Boss-series; a White High Cabover replaced the Road Commander 2. Both series now carried the Volvo stripe in their grille designs-the radical new droop-snoot Aero-along with an extended sleeper cab that was spec'd for the conventional trucks. As expected, Volvo's own powerplants and drivelines were also added. The Autocar brand was also included, although this label was later sold to American investors. Though the White nameplate lived on for another 10 years, it disappeared into history in 1995 when Volvo dropped it from the brand.