What is the most commonly towed item in the world?

Car Towing Wins the Most Popular Award
An early tow
An early tow
George Marks/Retrofile RF/Getty Images

Sometimes, you have to get your car towed for a simple reason, such as a cross-country move. But usually car towing is a much more frustrating experience. It happens to the best of us -- you misread some signage, parked in the wrong spot and emerged hours later to find your car gone to the tow yard. Or you've been stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken down car and had to call for the tow truck to rescue you.

Basically, for as long as there have been automobiles, there has been a need for towing. In the early days, there were bad roads, no GPS systems and an appalling lack of driver's ed classes. What resulted was madness. People didn't know how cars worked and they broke down, or drivers lost control and drove straight into a large body of water. In these early days of the automobile, before AAA, you would have had to rely on horses or strong men to tow you out of your mess. Luckily for everyone, particularly the horses, the tow truck was invented.

The first tow truck can be traced back to Chattanooga, Tenn. The year was 1916, and a man named John Wiley lost control of his Model T Ford and landed in Chicamauga Creek. A local repair shop owner named Ernest Holmes came along to retrieve the car; it took eight hours, six men and an awful lot of pulling with rope to get the job done [source: CBS]. Holmes understandably never wanted an experience like that again, but he didn't want to lose a way to get customers to his shop.

Three months after Wiley's wreck, Holmes had created the first tow truck. He attached poles, pulleys and chains to the back of a Cadillac and essentially started the towing business. It was quite a lucrative business to boot; Holmes once wrote, "The big profit jobs don't drive in. They are towed in" [source: Roadside America]. And while Holmes' immediate motivations may have been avoiding a ridiculous amount of labor and making a ridiculous profit, his idea allows us to do all the towing we do today -- from taking our boat to the lake to hitching a trailer to a car for a cross-country move.

Still, having a car towed isn't always fun. So the next time your car disappears after you parked somewhere illegally, you can thank Ernest Holmes.

If this article just whetted your appetite for more towing-related information, head to the next page for links galore.

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  • "Chattanooga: Tow Truck Town." CBS. Feb. 23, 2003. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/21/sunday/main541562.shtml
  • "International Towing and Recovery Museum." Roadside America. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/14405
  • Minter, Rick. "Chattanooga museum highlights history, role of tow trucks, recovery vehicles." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 19, 2008. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.ajc.com/travel/content/ajccars/content/stories/2008/07/18/towing_truck_ museum.html?cxntlid=inform_artr
  • "Tow Trucks." Chevron Cars. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.chevroncars.com/learn/cars/tow-trucks