History of the Dodge Pickup Trucks, 1921-1953
The first series: "true" Dodge Brothers trucks
The Dodge brothers (John and Horace) got their start making parts for Ford and other makers. From the first Dodge Brothers automobile in 1914, the Dodge brothers' durability and quality earned their company a strong reputation and good sales. They did not build an actual truck until World War I, though, and that was a panel van, not a pickup - with a half-ton capacity and a 35 horsepower - gross, not net! - four cylinder engine.
By 1921, after the deaths of the Dodge brothers, Graham Brothers started selling 1.5 ton pickups through Dodge dealers; it had Graham bodies and Dodge parts. A one ton model showed up later in the 1920s, still powered by that same four cylinder engine, and Dodge Brothers bought a controlling interest in Graham Brothers in 1925, picking up the rest in 1926.
In 1928, Chrysler acquired the Dodge Brothers company, just after launched its DeSoto and Fargo truck brands, both of which competed directly with Dodge Brothers. Fargo trucks (see our separate history) sold in the US from 1928 through 1930, and continued for decades as an export brand; they had nothing in common with Dodge trucks, sharing parts with Plymouth and DeSoto instead.
Dodge introduced a half-ton pickup for 1929 just after its acquisition by Chrysler, the last "original" Dodge Brothers-designed truck. For this year, three engines were available - two Dodge engines with six cylinders (63 and 78 hp), and a Maxwell four cylinder that was substantially smaller than the Dodge engine, but produced more power (45 hp).
The trucks had four wheel hydraulic brakes, a significant safety feature by no means standard on competing pickups, but standard across Chrysler Corporation vehicles.
The second series: Chrysler Dodges
Beginning in 1933, Dodge trucks abandoned their own engines and used Chrysler Corporation engines across the board, borrowing from Plymouth, DeSoto, and Chrysler, but (as in the present day) modifying the stock engines for better durability. The six cylinder engine was the flat-head six used in Plymouths, which continued through 1960.
The 1933 Dodge trucks were designated HC; the second letter, C, remained up until World War II, culminating in the WC.
In 1935, Dodge increased its range by selling 3/4 ton and one ton trucks based on the standard 1.5 ton pickups.
Fore-Point (cab forward) series
In 1936, Dodge entered the large truck arena. Those models were given the designation "D", as in "MD."
These new 1936 D trucks brought "Fore-Point load distribution" - not dissimilar from Cab Forward, in that the front axles were moved forward so they carried more weight, increasing stability and lowering length. In addition, a modern truck-style frame was adopted in half-ton pickups for the first time (previous models, like competitors, used car chassis), with side rails welded to cross members. Moving the engine and cab forward increased the usable bed space. The six cylinder engine was unchanged, producing 70 horsepower from 201 cubic inches, coupled to an optional synchronized three-speed manual floor shift. Performance was aided by steep rear axle ratios. The 3/4 and one ton pickups stayed in production, moving to the new platform, and selling for the same price as the big truck.
1937 brought a "safe" instrument panel, with nothing sticking out to avoid stabbing the driver during a crash. They also brought out a new 3/4 and one ton truck series, with the same styling as the half-ton trucks and two wheelbases. The six cylinder was expanded to 218 cubic inches, producing 75 horsepower.
Another redesign for 1939
1939 brought a complete redesign, with streamlined styling. After that, prewar changes started. In 1940, engineering started on a military four wheel drive truck, leading to the first stock light-duty four wheel drive pickup in 1946; these were made in a new, massive truck plant. Dodge also made their first diesel truck, using their own diesel engines. Only two automakers made their own diesel engines for their trucks before World War II: Mack in 1938 and Dodge in 1939.
Dodge had good reason to brag about their trucks; while some competitors upgraded their smaller, lighter vehicles to create 2-ton-and-up models, Dodge made many more changes to make their bigger trucks tougher and more durable. (Stay tuned for an in-depth view of these trucks.)
In 1939, Dodge introduced the concept of Job Rated. This wasn't a gimmick or styling exercise. It was aimed at getting the customer the truck that fit the job that he was buying it for.
Truck production lines barely stopped as military orders poured in. Dodge had established its hugely successful four wheel drive combination in 1934. Between 1942 and the declaration of peace in 1945, Dodge built some 255,195 "T" model trucks (T214 military trucks). This chassis became the basis for the largely unchanged civilian version called the "Power Wagon." Thus, the 1939 styling continued through 1947. These were job rated as "WC" for 1/2 ton and "WD" for one ton.
The revolutionary new postwar B series Dodge trucks
Absolutely not to be left out were the Dodge Power Ram trucks, which came with pickup beds; these were not part of the regular progression of Dodge pickups, and are detailed in a their own Dodge Power Wagon page. The legendary tough trucks, directly descended from 15,000 designed for China’s horrific Burma Road, ran from just after the war to 1978.
At the same time that Dodge was selling the tough, relatively unchanging Power Wagons, built with little regard to style, they also moved to meet customer tastes. As Curtis Redgap wrote:
Dodge joined the planned obsolescence era in 1948 with new designations and a styling studio for trucks. This studio brought the “pilot house” styling with the model B-1. These were popular and well-thought-out, stylish small trucks. Even the big jobs looked good. After that only the number changed as each new year model came along. 1951 was the B-2. 1953 was the B-3.
The postwar B-trucks were introduced at the same time as GM and Ford pickups, and yet managed to beat both those larger companies. Like the 1993 Ram, which also leapfrogged GM and Ford, the B-series had a superior cab with taller seats and larger glass areas, named “pilot house” for its visibility. Rear quarter windows became optional to avoid other blind spots. The front axles, wheels, and engine also moved, shifting payload to the front axle so the truck could carry more on the same axle and springs. Dodge took advantage of their increased capacity by deepening the cargo boxes.
In addition, cross steering was introduced, allowing for much tighter turns; and longer springs and shocks made the ride more comfortable while improving handling. Many favor these trucks because of their appearance, as well; while the 1993 and newer Rams took many cues from big rigs, they also resemble the B series in many ways.
The B series continued through 1953. After that, the C series Dodge pickups picked up where they left off, with major power boosts.