The Long, Fascinating History Of American Food Trucks

Believe it or not, some version of the cool, trendy, modern food truck has been around since the late 1600s when New York City (then known as New Amsterdam) was regulating street push carts that sold food.

When train transportation became available in the mid-1800s, travelers typically ate at roadhouses near railroad stops. Eventually the trains offered food service in special cars, permitting passengers to purchase and eat at their seat or at a railroad stop. Dining cars were later added, allowing travelers to eat onboard in some level of comfort.

In 1866, the chuck wagon was invented by Charles Goodnight, a Texas cattle rancher, to feed simple foods to wranglers who were driving his herd of cows from Texas to Denver. That idea was a big success and widely copied.

About 30 years later, sausage vendors were selling food outside dormitories at major East Coast universities, and in New York City, night-time lunch wagons sold meals to people who worked the late shift. Many night-time wagons were so successful that they never changed locations.

In 1917, U.S. Army mobile canteens began feeding the soldiers of World War I. By the 1950s, versions of the mobile canteens were serving U.S. Army personnel at stateside army bases. The ‘50s also saw the appearance of the ice cream trucks that trolled the streets of growing suburbia, attracting children with their tinkling bells and music.

In the 1960s, the “roach coach” became familiar in industrial areas and at construction sites. The food was cheap and filling, if not so flavorful. In 1974, a Mexican immigrant named Raul Martinez converted an old ice cream truck into the nation’s first taco truck and parked it outside an East Los Angeles bar. His friends thought he was crazy, but soon he was selling $150 worth of tacos every evening.

Over the years, the food truck business boomed, often serving unique cuisine that most people could never find at a restaurant. In 2010, three big things happened. The National Restaurant Association recognized this growing industry by including food truck exhibits at its annual convention, the Great Food Truck Race became the first TV show focused on the food truck business and the Zagat guide announced it would review food truck cuisine starting in 2011.

Though not around to see those first push carts, our experienced trio of gourmet food trucks knows the business. When you want to nosh on the street or host a family reunion where everyone reminisces, look to The Hungry Nomad (877-NOMAD-10), Greenz on Wheelz (855-6Greenz) or Hang 10 Tacos (855-5-Hang-10) to serve you well. Phone us to discuss your catering needs. We will develop a menu just for you because we don’t believe in doing anything that’s old hat.