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The design of sophisticated machinery as we know it today evolves throughout the years. That is certainly true for the concrete truck.

The first portable concrete mixer patented in America, "Mortar Mixer," was patented on February 9, 1904 by Richard Bodlaender of Breslau, Germany. The front axle and wagon wheels were replaced by a large drum with paddles inside, and as the horse-drawn vehicle moved along, the drum rolling along the ground would create the mixing action.

A portable mixer, invented by Alvah Handsel of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., patented on January 12, 1909, employed a hexagonal drum, but not one that rolled along the ground. A coal-fired steam boiler attached to a piston pump powered the mixer, which had a gear-train to drive the chain drive.

The addition of a power unit was such a quantum leap over horses that for the next decade, little of note was really accomplished.

Finally, the first true concrete truck wasn't called a concrete truck. In fact this patent is titled "Apparatus for Concrete Work." Records indicate it was invented by Ackert Bickel of Kansas City, Mo., and was patented under U.S. Patent No. 1,363,304 in 1920. It had no sign of horses, no steam boiler, a real steering wheel, and an internal combustion engine, albeit with a hand-crank starter sticking out the front of the vehicle. The most notable thing about it, however, is an enormous amount of dead space on the truck bed.

When inventor Charles Ball of Milwaukee received U.S. Patent No. 1,766,584 on June 24, 1930 for his next-generation concrete truck, titled "Mixing and Agitating Machine," it was assigned to Chain Belt Co., also of Milwaukee. During the next 2 years, Ball radically changed the designs for the mixing drum and incorporated them into his patents. For the next 40 to 50 years, the general appearance of the concrete truck didn't change much.

In the 1930s, the demand for concrete trucks was exploding due to increasing highway construction. Roscoe Lee's "Transit Concrete Mixer" invention was an attachment that fit on the back of a standard truck frame and carried a drum mixer that was set in place with a small crane. It was less expensive than a dedicated transit truck, and once the contract was complete, the truck could be refitted with a flatbed, box, or dump to carry other materials.

The article includes an account of a 1916 concrete mixer invention that preceded Bickel's invention but which did not receive a patent