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December 4, 2018 Staff

The Brief History of Food Trucks in America (1691 – Present)

Food trucks in America are considered to be a brand new movement. However, mobile food has been alive and kicking as far back as the 1600s when street cart owners were considered by some to be unfair competition for brick-and-mortar restaurant owners.

In this post, we take a brief look at the history of food trucks in America. From the first street vendors in the 1600s, to the chuck wagons of the Wild West, all the way to the modern gourmet food trucks that we’re familiar with today.

1691 – New York City (previously New Amsterdam) starts regulating street vendors selling food and other items from vending carts around the city.

Inside a gourmet food truck. 

History of Food Trucks: 1800’s

1850’s – Dining cars begin serving cross country train passengers with meals.

1866 – Charles Goodnight invents the “Chuck Wagon” to feed cattlemen and wagon trains traversing the old West.

1872 – The first make-shift diner is setup in a horse-drawn freight wagon.

1894 – Ivy League universities start to attract sausage vendors who sell their hot dogs outside the student dorms and their carts became known as “dog wagons”.

History of Food Trucks: 1900’s

1917 – The US Army mobile canteens (or field kitchens) start feeding troops.

1936 – Oscar Mayer introduces the first portable hot dog cart, The Weiner Mobile.

1950’s – Ice cream trucks become a thing and start selling their frozen treats on every street in America.

1960’s – Roach coaches are born and begin selling food to construction sites around the country.

1974 – The East Los Angeles bar gets the nation’s first taco truck when Raul Martinez converts an old ice cream truck.

1980’s – Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ attracts “grease trucks” selling “Fat Sandwiches” to college students.

History of Food Trucks: 2000’s

A Modern Food Van Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

2004 – New York celebrates their food cart heritage after The Street Vendor Project creates the Vendy Awards. A competition that selects and celebrates NYC’s best street food vendors.

July 2006 – Wikipedia adds “food truck” to their data list and creates the history of food trucks around the world.

November 2008 – Roy Choi hits a homerun with his Kogi BBQ food truck in Los Angeles, selling Asian infused tacos to the masses.

January 2010 – Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association (SoCalMFVA) is formed by Matt Geller, becoming the first member organized entity created to protect the rights of food truck owners.

May 2010 – The National Restaurant Association portions some 1,500 square feet to food truck exhibits at its annual convention in Chicago, signaling a recognition of their importance.

August 2010 – The mobile food industry gets its first television program, the Great Food Truck Race and become an overnight hit.

September 2010 – The US government adds a reference guide called the “Tips for Starting Your Own Street Food Business” to its small business website, www.business.gov.

October 2010 – Zagat guide announces that they will begin to provide reviews of food trucks in 2011.

November 2010 – Los Angeles begins to rank food trucks with letter grades, just like their cousin restaurants.

January 2011 – President Barak Obama “Tweets” out that his favorite food truck in Washington DC is D.C. Empanadas.  City erupts in pride!

June 2011 – New York issues the first limited liquor license to the Pera Food Truck.

August 2011 – The Gap clothing retailer launches a nationwide ad campaign marketing a retro style jean with the use of a food truck in it.

February 2012 – NFL Super Bowl allows food trucks in to serve fans in Indianapolis.

June 2014 – The National Food Truck Association (NFTA and not to be confused with NAFTA) is formed creating the first national association of food truck associations.

August 2014 – The movie “Chef” is released which serves as the first ever motion picture to be centered around the story of a food truck and its owner.

Spring 2015 – Hundreds of successful food truck owners across the country begin opening complimentary restaurants as they master their trade

Present – Food Truck owners start looking for and requiring fully automated food truck POS systems to handle their on-the-go businesses and other mobile business concepts start to gain a foothold in the industry. Food trucks are evolving into larger enterprises and moving to restaurants, multiple food trucks, and some have even gone on to acquire venture capital funding and build multi-million dollar food brands.

What will happen next in the food truck industry is anyones guess. But looking toward the future of the food truck industry all signs point to increased growth in the industry. According to IBISWorld Industry reports over $1 billion in annual revenues can be expected in the coming years.

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