What year did the Mack Senior model debut? When was the first Mack diesel engine produced? When did Mack adopt the bulldog as its mascot? Or, a little closer to home, what transmission was in your grandfather’s 1940 Mack? If you’ve got questions – and perhaps a VIN number – there’s a good chance the Mack Trucks Historical Museum in Allentown, PA has the answers within their archives.
The Mack Museum was born as a non-profit corporation in 1984 and commemorates Mack history through photos, memorabilia and a collection of vintage Mack trucks. In addition to being the authority on all things Mack, the Mack Museum also restores and preserves vintage Mack Trucks and memorabilia for all to enjoy.
Mack Trucks was founded in 1900 by Jack and Gus Mack in Brooklyn, NY, and was originally known as the Mack Brothers Company. The Mack brothers first entered the vehicle manufacturing business seven years earlier, when they bought the Fallesen and Berry carriage company. The company produced its first successful motorized vehicle in 1900. In 1905, the company moved its headquarters to Allentown, PA. After being purchased by Volvo in 2000, Mack moved their headquarters to Greensboro, NC in 2010. The company adopted its present name, Mack Trucks, in 1922.
The company’s trademark is the Bulldog on the front. Mack earned this nickname in 1917, during World War I, when the British government purchased the Mack AC model to supply its front lines with troops, food and equipment. British soldiers dubbed the truck the Bulldog. Its pugnacious, blunt-nosed hood, coupled with its incredible level of durability, reminded the soldiers of the tenacious qualities of their country’s mascot, the British Bulldog.
Mack trucks were instrumental in building America, so the Mack Museum was created to help preserve that history and legacy. In addition to everything inside the museum, even the facility and buildings it resides in are historical, too. There was interest in building a museum in the 1970s in Allentown, and back then the idea was to include all brands of trucks – but that never came to be. In 1984, Mack Trucks established a nonprofit corporation and founded the Mack Truck Historical Museum. Mack had saved quite a bit of archive material, vehicles and components to establish a very nice museum, which was originally located at the final assembly plant in Macungie, PA.
In the early 1990s, the museum needed to be relocated, as production increased, and Mack needed more space at the Macungie plant. The museum was moved to a temporary location near the Lehigh Valley International Airport. In 2010, the museum was moved to its current location at the Mack Customer Center, which was also previously the Engineering, Development and Testing Center. The Customer Center delivers the best experience for customers and fans by letting them take a deep dive into Mack Trucks’ products and technology, while also allowing customers to drive Mack trucks on their paved performance track that surrounds the facility, with both an on- and off-road course.
The facility where the museum and Customer Center are located today was originally opened in 1975 and was Mack’s Engineering, Development and Testing Center. Located by Queen City Airport, about a mile from Mack’s World Headquarters, the facility was home to Mack’s research and development departments including the Machine and Sheet Metal Fab Shop, the Styling and Drafting Shop, the Chassis Modification Shop; the Control Room (where various tests were conducted on vehicles in a controlled laboratory environment); and the Quiet/Sound Room, which featured special acoustic wedge-shaped foam pieces, mounted on all the walls and the ceiling, which produced absolutely no echo. Outside, the Performance Track was where they tested all their vehicles. They still use it today, but now it is for customers purchasing new vehicles.
The museum is staffed with retired Mack (and some Brockway) employees. Brockway was purchased by Mack in 1956 and remained a division of Mack until its closing in 1977. There are seven staff members that archive articles and photographs for the museum, and six members of the staff volunteer as guides for the museum, including members of the local chapter of the Antique Truck Club of America, who volunteer weekly and monthly. Each passing day creates more archive history material, vehicles and components. The Mack Trucks Historical Museum welcomes over 9,000 visitors a year – from down the street and from all over the globe!
There are plenty of exhibits to view, as well as over thirty trucks, engines, transmissions, axles and other various components throughout all the rooms in the Mack Museum. When you walk in the doors of the museum, you are greeted by a receptionist, where you wait for the next available tour guide. The first place you walk through is the Hallway Gallery, where displays are hung on the wall, along with cabinets and tables filled with all sorts of Mack history and paraphernalia. Then, you enter a huge room that was once the home of the Chassis Modification Shop where there are more displays and pictures, a 1/10 scale model Mack CH that was used for wind tunnel tests, and a sample of Mack trucks that fill the room.
Next, you are guided to the Control Room, where you see the dynamometer that performed all sorts of tests on Mack vehicles and prototypes. There are two vehicles in this room, as well. The last room was the Quiet/Sound Room. In addition to the weird foam wedges mounted on the walls and ceiling, two huge tubes come down from the ceiling, which were used to vent the exhaust from the trucks being tested there. It truly is quiet in that room, and for as big as it is, there is no echo at all.
I have collected brochures of Mack trucks since the mid-1970s and always wanted to see the Mack plant and all around it. Many of the brochures feature pictures taken inside the Engineering, Development and Testing Center on various models of trucks, so it was very interesting to actually see these places, in addition to everything else that Mack had on display in their museum.
One of the most notable vehicles on display was the first bus ever built – a 1905 Mack Brothers Motor Co. (Chassis No. 9) 13-passenger bus with a 40-hp 4-cylinder motor, a 3-speed transmission and rear-axle chain drive. Featuring a hand-crank starter and an operating speed of 15 mph, this is the oldest surviving Mack vehicle. Delivered to Higgins Tours of New Orleans and Chicago, it was used in Chicago in the summer and New Orleans in the winter. It operated in regular service for over 25 years and accumulated between 750,000 and 1,000,000 miles. After retirement, it toured the U.S. promoting the durability of Mack vehicles.
Another unique vehicle at the Mack Museum is a 1979 Mack Cruise-Liner cabover powered with a 550-hp gas turbine engine. It is the last of three prototypes that were built and tested to still exist. No gas turbine powered trucks were sold by any manufacturer due to the inherent fuel inefficiency of the turbine, as well as the fact that they ate a lot of brake shoes and pads (it was tough to slow those things down). There was also a 1978 Mack R767ST Model with a modified sleeper to replicate the Rubber Duck truck in the movie Convoy, and a huge orange 1963 M18X off-road dump truck. Powered by a 200-hp 6-cylinder Mack Thermodyne engine with a Mack 10-speed overgear transmission, only 31 of these monster dump trucks were built from 1961-1963, so they are rare.
The heavy-duty Mack AC, with its well-known tapered hood, was the truck which started the bulldog theme. The Mack AC was a very popular model, and there were a few of them at the museum, including a 1927 AC Model with a 5-ton chassis powered by a 69-hp 4-cylinder gas engine with a 4-speed transmission and a chain-driven rear axle. Featuring hand-crank starting and a road speed of 26 mph, more than 40,000 AC Models were built between 1916-1939.
Moving to the more modern age, the museum also has the Megatron truck from the movie “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – a Mack Granite military truck. This was the second Transformers film to include Mack trucks. Previously, in the “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” movie, two Mack Pinnacle tractors and a Granite mixer were used. The museum also has a 2001 Mack CH tractor powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). The brown truck, one of the first of its kind, was operated for ten years in southern California by UPS to evaluate the practical usage of LNG.
If you’re ever in Allentown, do yourself a favor and check out the Mack Museum. It’s free to get in, but donations are always accepted and appreciated. The museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. For more details, check out www.macktruckshistoricalmuseum.org.
As a footnote, I would like to thank R.W. Sidley, a Mack dealership in Thompson, Ohio, for filling my need for Mack brochures. When I was kid, in the 1970s, they sent me a thick envelope, full of Mack truck brochures. That was so cool! I also wanted to say “thank you” to Bill Armstrong, my tour guide at the Mack Museum, and Doug Maney, the curator of the museum. Over the years I have driven a few Macks myself, including while in the military and later, after my service, when I was a driver for Source One out of Belle Vernon, PA. The people at Mack always treated us right, and I loved those trucks!