Work Truck sat down with Bo Knapheide, president & CEO of The Knapheide Manufacturing Company, to learn more about the company's past and future goals.   -  Photo: Knapheide/Work Truck

Work Truck sat down with Bo Knapheide, president & CEO of The Knapheide Manufacturing Company, to learn more about the company's past and future goals. 

Photo: Knapheide/Work Truck

Knapheide is known today as the go-to for vocational needs. The North American manufacturer of work truck bodies and beds has a long history of supporting vocational fleet needs.

Work Truck sat down with Bo Knapheide, president and CEO of Knapheide, to learn more about the past 175 years.

Take a journey from wagons to vocational truck solutions, discover how being a family business has set Knapheide apart for almost two centuries, reminisce on milestones, and glimpse what the future could hold.

A Start on Wooden Wheels

If your company is almost two centuries old, it should be no surprise that it would pre-date modern commercialized automobile use. And, before you had 440 hp, you had an average of 1-2 hp — from actual horses pulling a wagon.

“Like many people from Germany in the early 1800s, my great, great, great grandfather, Herman Heinrich Knapheide, began looking for opportunities in America,” Knapheide shared.

At the time, he noted that America was considered “the land of destiny.”

“So, in 1845, he got on a boat and headed to America. He originally landed in New Orleans, then traveled to St. Louis, where he was married, and ended up in Quincy, Illinois,” Knapheide said.

He added that, at the time, Quincy was an ideal location for manufacturing because of its location in the heart of the agriculture belt, next to the Mississippi River.

“In 1848, Heinrich founded the Henry Knapheide Wagon Company. The company prospered due to Westward expansion, and soon Knapheide was known by farmers, miners, and pioneers for their high-quality products,” Knapheide shared.

Knapheide grew from agriculture to vocational service bodies providing vehicle options to companies such as Rapid Transit.   -  Photo: Knapheide

Knapheide grew from agriculture to vocational service bodies providing vehicle options to companies such as Rapid Transit. 

Photo: Knapheide

Growing Up in Agriculture

With a history that dates to wagons, Knapheide’s vocational fleet focus started with agriculture and is still a big part of the company today.

“In many ways, we continue to serve these customers like we always have. We are committed to making our customers as productive as possible by providing them with the best solution for their needs,” Knapheide said.

And as many things have changed since the company was founded, the support Knapheide provides the agricultural fleet vocation has stayed consistent.

“Customers still need similar attention, whether we were selling them wagons 175 years ago or creating a high-contented solution for any unique need the customer may have. In many ways, these values have always been with us from the beginning, it has been something that consistently has followed us through the years,” Knapheide said.

From the start, Knapheide understood that fleets needed a number of options for a variety of applications and provided body and cab options from an early date.   -  Photo: Knapheide

From the start, Knapheide understood that fleets needed a number of options for a variety of applications and provided body and cab options from an early date. 

Photo: Knapheide

A Look Back at Knapheide's Past

Over the past 175 years, a lot has happened that Knapheide is proud of, and at the core of it all is how the company was founded in the first place.

“We are extremely proud of the milestone anniversary we celebrate this year of 175 years in business. There aren’t a lot of companies out there that have celebrated what we get to this year. It’s humbling to think about what it took to get us here. I often think about the courage it took for my great, great, great grandfather to board that ship to head to America to pursue his dreams, really the first step that got us to where we are today,” Knapheide said.

Looking back over the past 175 years, many milestones topped Knapheide’s list, but the company’s perseverance stood out as a top contender. 

“Most of all, I’m proud of how we always found ways to survive in the face of adversity. During the great depression, we sold and repaired washing machines when times were tough,” Knapheide said. “We survived a plant fire and two world wars.”

During World War II, Knapheide was contracted by the military to make metal casings for military radios and interiors for military landing crafts and DUKW boats.

In the 1950s, Knapheide employees proudly sat outside of their facility in Illinois. Harold W. (Bud) Knapheide, Jr., joined the company with his father still at the helm in 1938, and was overseeing operations at this time.   -  Photo: Knapheide

In the 1950s, Knapheide employees proudly sat outside of their facility in Illinois. Harold W. (Bud) Knapheide, Jr., joined the company with his father still at the helm in 1938, and was overseeing operations at this time. 

Photo: Knapheide

“We survived the floods of 1973 and 1993, ultimately building our current manufacturing headquarters because of the floods. These are all situations where the company could have easily folded, but we rallied together and, as a family business, we only got stronger,” Knapheide added.

Another top milestone he noted included the transition from wagons to automobiles. There were several wagon-making companies back in the early 1900s. Today, Knapheide noted it is the only one left.

“We transitioned from wood to steel, which made us known for our grain and livestock bodies during the 1980s. Grain bodies made up the bulk of our business back then. Today, we are known for our full lineup of products, which allows us to give our customers the variety they need to find the perfect work vehicle for their vocation,” he added. “We always found ways to survive. We fought through all these changes, and they made us who we are today.”

A Customer-Centric Focus

Today, Knapheide is laser-focused on its customers, providing a completely customized solution for work vehicles or a standard product that may be the right fit.

“We continue investing in machines and robotics to increase our capacity to better serve our employees and customers. We are committed to being the best partner and providing the customer with the best solution. At our core as a family business, we have always been a partnering company that values relationships. We work hard to build quality products that make our customers safe, productive, and successful,” Knapheide said.

Knapheide has been a staple on trade show floors for decades, showing off it's latest and greatest options and upfits, including this image from the 1960s.   -  Photo: Knapheide

Knapheide has been a staple on trade show floors for decades, showing off it's latest and greatest options and upfits, including this image from the 1960s. 

Photo: Knapheide

A Glimpse into the Future

Looking into the future, Knapheide wants to “be seen as not only the industry leader in truck body manufacturing but the leader in providing solutions for all vocations and vehicle types,” according to Knapheide.

With its distribution network, Knapheide provides all its solutions nationwide.

“We will remain committed to meeting the needs of our customers, embracing change, and continuing to adapt in order to make them successful,” Knapheide said.

Knapheide celebrated its 175th anniversary at Work Truck Week 2023 showcasing a number of classic wagons and vehicles.   -  Photo: Lauren Fletcher

Knapheide celebrated its 175th anniversary at Work Truck Week 2023 showcasing a number of classic wagons and vehicles. 

Photo: Lauren Fletcher

Family Roots & Branches

Knapheide is a family company founded by Herman Heinrich Knapheide, who held the helm for 42 years. He was succeeded by a young Henry E. Knapheide, who incorporated the company in 1893.

During the third generation of family leadership, the automobile finally came around, and Harold W. Knapheide led the charge with the first wagon body on a Ford Model T Chassis. 

Harold W. (Bud) Knapheide, Jr., joined the company with his father still at the helm in 1938. The fourth-generation leader oversaw the growth of the business with the new West Quincy headquarters and brought on his son, Harold W. (Knap) Knapheide III, to develop and market a new service body product.

The fifth-generation leader, Knap, oversaw the company from the early 1970s through the early 2000s, dealing with facility flooding, agricultural market crashes, and more flooding. But his innovation and perseverance saw the establishment of a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, and his understanding of the industry helped grow its long-term relationships.

Selling and Songwriting: A Fleet Musician’s Tale

Today, H.W. Bo Knapheide leads the company, starting early and joining full-time in 1999. Working in everything from production to installation to marketing, he has shepherded Knapheide into the 21st century.

Remaining a family-owned company for 175 years may have challenges, but it’s clearly a part of this company’s success.

“Being a family business is something that really sets us apart from all others in the industry. Not only have we been family owned for six generations, but we also have many employees who have family generations of their own who have worked for us. We even have distributor partners with multi-generational family businesses,” Knapheide shared.

He shared two things that set Knapheide apart from everyone else: “The determination never to give up and a passion to be the best. We’ve faced several hardships and have always found a way to overcome them. In fact, facing these challenges has only made us stronger. We are always looking for ways to improve, to serve our customers better, and to be the absolute best partner we can be,” Knapheide concluded.

Today, Knapheide offers a broad lineup of modern, vocational commercial vehicle bodies and options for any fleet need.   -  Photo: Knapheide

Today, Knapheide offers a broad lineup of modern, vocational commercial vehicle bodies and options for any fleet need. 

Photo: Knapheide

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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