The Hidden History: Who Invented Towing?

Most of us have, at one point or another, found ourselves on the side of the road, stalled vehicle at a standstill, anxiously waiting for a tow truck to arrive. In the midst of this stressful situation, it's unlikely anyone pauses to wonder, "Who came up with the concept of towing?" As we dive into the history of this essential service, we'll discover that the invention of towing – or more specifically, the tow truck – can be traced back to a singular, remarkable individual.

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    Meet the Man: Ernest Holmes, Sr.

    Ernest Holmes, Sr., a mechanic from Chattanooga, Tennessee, is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the tow truck. However, like many great innovations, the idea wasn't born out of a planned venture but rather out of necessity and, to some degree, frustration.

    The Inciting Incident

    The year was 1916, and Holmes was running a successful auto repair shop. One day, he received a distress call from a friend who had driven his car off the road and into a creek bed. Armed with only blocks, ropes, and a team of six men, it took Holmes eight laborious hours to pull the car out of the ditch.

    The ordeal ignited a spark in Holmes – there had to be a more efficient way to recover vehicles.

    The Birth of the Tow Truck

    Motivated by the experience, Holmes began to work on a solution that would revolutionize roadside assistance. He started by affixing an iron chain and hook system to a 1913 Cadillac. This initial invention, although innovative, was a manual system that required the operator to attach the hooks and then physically drag the vehicle with the help of the car's power.

    Not completely satisfied, Holmes continued to refine his design. His subsequent model featured a system of pulleys and poles that made it possible to lift the vehicle off the ground slightly. The design continued to evolve, and in 1919, Holmes patented his first official "wrecker."

    From Invention to Industry

    Holmes began manufacturing and selling his tow trucks commercially under the Ernest Holmes Co. brand. His design was a game-changer, transforming the way mechanics and garages operated. What was once an exhausting, hours-long ordeal became a straightforward process, thanks to Holmes' invention.

    While other companies eventually entered the market with their versions of tow trucks, the legacy of Ernest Holmes, Sr. is undeniable. His innovative spirit set the foundation for the towing industry as we know it today.


    The story of the tow truck's invention is a compelling reminder that necessity truly is the mother of invention. The next time you see a tow truck on the road, or find yourself in need of one, take a moment to appreciate the ingenuity of Ernest Holmes, Sr. His determined response to a friend's roadside crisis over a century ago forever changed the face of vehicle recovery, laying the groundwork for the essential towing industry we rely on today.