Sterling Motor Truck Co. - 1916-1952 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin


STERLlNG (ii); STERLING WHITE (US) 1916-1953

(1) Sterling Motor Truck Co., Milwaukee, Wis. 1916-1933

(2) Sterling Motors Corp., Milwaukee, Wis. 1934-51

(3) Sterling Division, White Motor Co., Milwaukee, Wis. 1951-1952

(4) Sterling Division, White Motor Co., Cleveland, Ohio 1952-1953

After the name change from Sternberg, Sterling trucks became conventionals in a 1 Y2- to 7-ton range. In 1918 Sterling made 479 USA "Liberty" model B trucks, being one of the 15 manufacturers selected by the US Army to make them to the original Gramm-Bernstein design. The civilian range was also continued, much of which was worm-driven, although still chain-driven on the 7-ton and some 5-ton models.

From the mid-teens until the sale of the company, the name "Sterling" was with rare exceptions cast into the smooth metallic triangular shell crown as a prominent identification feature.

The exclusive wood inlay of the frame developed during the Sternberg days was patented on Feb. 7, 1922 and continued to be used in Sterling trucks. Sterling made its own 4-cylinder engines cast in pairs, 4-speed sliding gear transmissions on models up to 2Y2-tons, 3-speed constant mesh transmissions on the 3Y2- and 5-ton models, and 6­speed constant mesh transmissions on the 5- and 7 -ton chain drives. Pneumatic tires were used with duals on some models up to 3Y2-tons, and solids, including duals, on larger size models for 1922. Most Sterlings had cycle-type fenders from the mid-teens to the early 1930's, and some were still used far later. Solid tires continued to be used until about 1927, being phased out completely by late 1931.

In the mid-1920s Sterling added a 1 Y2-ton worm drive to the range at $3,345. Several other straight-truck sizes with worm or chain drives ranged from 2- to 7 ½-tons priced from $3,545 to $6,500. These were heavyweights, with the 5-ton chain, drive chassis weighing 10,000 pounds. This one had a transmission of 6 speeds forward and 2 reverse. At the top of the Sterling range were tractors of 12-, and 20-ton capacity priced from $5,850 to $6,600. Buses were also offered for 21 and 25 passengers at $6,800 to $7,575. The general styling was virtually unchanged from the mid-teens to the late 1920s.

In 1928 Sterling adopted the new high-speed 6-cylinder engines on the market and offered a 1-ton model. In 1928 Sterling used an early multiple transmission, an idea developed by the Schacht Motor Truck Co. about 1920. Although most truck manufacturers had abandoned chain drive, Sterling continued to offer them for many years afterwards on the large models. Some tandems came into use. For 1930 Sterling's new 6-cylinder gasoline engine of 779.3 cu. in. developed 185hp, a new record for truck engines. Sterling reached its record production with 1,000­1,600 trucks in these last three years. 1931 saw Sterling's handsome new F-series of the mid-range trucks which resembled Brockway and Indiana, among others. Some even had rear fenders.

In 1932 Sterling bought the La France-Republic Corp. of Alma, Mich., which helped foreign sales substantially, as La France-Republic had extensive overseas dealer outlets. Sterling continued La France-Republic pro­duction until 1942.

Cummins diesels were now available, and Sterling was one of the first to offer them as an option.

By 1935 truck manufacturers had started the cab-over revival, and Sterling developed an unusual rear-tilting cab. The windshield, front-quarter windows, seats, and fenders were stationary while the doors and the remainder of the cab, with its rear-quarter side windows, tilted backwards on hinges at the rear base of the cab.

Later, for 1937, Sterling's completely new and handsomely styled G-series cab-over tilted in orthodox fashion, i.e., to the front. The engine was a 125hp Cummins diesel, some of them driving tandem rear axles.

These tilt-cabs were among the first of the new era although the tilt feature was little copied until the early 1950's. In both Sterling cab-overs, the doors opened from the front, windshields were V-type, and the familiar rad­iator grille graced the front of the cab.

Sterling's conventional styling was, on the other hand, very conservative. Front brakes were hydraulic with the rear mechanical, actuated by a vacuum booster. Air-brakes were also available.

On Jan. I, 1939 the Fageol Truck and Coach Co. of Oakland, Cal. ceased their production and Sterling bought their sales outlets. Since more Sterlings were delivered to California than anywhere else, this purchase made good sense.

About the same time, Sterling conventionals got new streamlined cabs with large rectangular V-windshields. The chain drives were included in the H-series, while other series had shaft drives. One of the latter was the rare J­-series with a very different front-end styling. The theme of the grille was a cross between iron grille-work and a waterfall, while the fenders were full-blown pontoons, making it the most beautiful truck in Sterling history. The J-series 6-wheeler weighed 12,775 pounds with a capacity of 8 to 12 tons and was priced at $8,165.

Typical weights of the other conventional 10- to 13-ton 6-wheeler chassis and cabs were in the 13,000 to 17,000 pound range. Sterlings could be light or heavy in the over­all range of 7- to 20-tons capacity with weights of 10,375 to 20,000 pounds priced at $4,840 to $15,200.

Developing the chain-drive idea further, Sterling engineers applied it to a tandem bogie. Power was supplied through three differentials and concentric jack­shafts to drive the chains, all amazingly coordinated with the springs and radius rods.

During World War II Sterling made many heavy trucks of 7 ½ - and 15-tons in the HCS and DDS series to special army order using the standard cabs and fitted with heavy wrecker and airport fire equipment,

Special projects included 12-ton 8 X 8 T-26 8-man cab­-forward tractors and cargo trucks using a swan-neck frame and powered by American-La France 275hp engines driving through tandem bogies, front and rear, and equipped with 14.00 X 24 dual tires all around. The weight was 50,000 pounds.

A special experimental project (this one after WWII) was the T-26 El, another 12-ton cargo truck, a set-back, conventional with tandem bogies front and rear which were all chain driven. Dual tires all around were 14.00 X 24 20-ply, and steering was of the hydraulic platform type. Power was furnished by a Ford GAA 425hp V-8 engine normally used in certain Sherman tanks, which gave a top speed of 41mph to this 55,900 pound behemoth. These were some of the largest trucks built anywhere in the 1940's.

In the civilian field annual sales hit a post-war peak near 600 followed by a decline. In 1951 Sterling was sold to the White Motor Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, and the following year the Wisconsin operations were shut down and removed to Cleveland.

The trucks themselves had the new Sterling White nameplate, and the front axle was set back a little more, but otherwise they were, little changed from late pre-war models in appearance. Also in 1951, White had contracted to be the sales and service organization for the Freightliner truck, and in 1953 bought the Autocar Company of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The sum total 'of all these operations seemed rather too much especially as Sterling and Autocar Trucks were pretty much in the same class, so the Sterling truck was discontinued at this time.

Sterling's lifetime production is likely around 12,000 trucks, with the biggest years in the late 1920's. R W


STERNBERG (US) 1907-1915

(l) Sternberg Motor Truck Co., Milwaukee, Wis. 1907-1913 (2) Sternberg Mfg, Co., Milwaukee, Wis. 1913-1914 .

(3) Sternberg Motor Truck Co., Milwaukee, Wis. 1914-1915

Most of Sternberg trucks were cab-overs with right-­hand steering in 1, 1 ½, 3 ½, and 5-ton sizes driven by 29 to 44hp 4-cylinder T-head engines cast in pairs and powering through a multiple disc clutch and 3-speed selective slid­ing transmission mounted amidships to a double chain drive. However, the 1-ton model had a friction drive. Springs were semi-elliptic all around except, strangely, the 1 ½-ton model which had platform springs at the rear. Solid tires were mounted on artillery wheels. Radiators were in the front, and bow-shaped on the top.

An unusual salient feature of Sternberg frames was that they were lined with solid oak planks pressed into the main steel channels and then further secured by many bolts throughout the length of the planks. Road shocks were said to be substantially reduced' to the chassis and load with this type of construction. The remainder of the frame was also of bolted construction, in contrast to the usual riveting used in that era.

A more conventional truck series was introduced for 1914, and this had a worm drive. A 7 ½-ton cab-over model was also in the range. Anti-German reaction stirred up by the war in Europe was felt all over the nation, even in small cities. Accordingly, Mr. William Sternberg, the company's founder, changed the truck's name to Sterling, and pro­duction continued under that name.



For more information please read:

Ed Strauss & Karen Strauss - The Bus World Encyclopedia of Buses

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Donald F. Wood - American Buses

Denis Miller - The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trucks and Buses

Susan Meikle Mandell - A Historical Survey of Transit Buses in the United States

David Jacobs - American Buses, Greyhound, Trailways and Urban Transportation

William A. Luke & Linda L. Metler - Highway Buses of the 20th Century: A Photo Gallery 

William A. Luke & Brian Grams - Buses of Motorcoach Industries 1932-2000 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Greyhound Buses 1914-2000 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Prevost Buses 1924-2002 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Flxible Intercity Buses 1924-1970 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Buses of ACF Photo Archive (including ACF-Brill & CCF-Brill)

William A. Luke - Trailways Buses 1936-2001 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Fageol & Twin Coach Buses 1922-1956 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Yellow Coach Buses 1923 Through 1943: Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Trolley Buses: 1913 Through 2001 Photo Archive

Harvey Eckart - Mack Buses: 1900 Through 1960 Photo Archive

Brian Grams & Andrew Gold - GM Intercity Coaches 1944-1980 Photo Archive

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

John McKane - Flxible Transit Buses: 1953 Through 1995 Photo Archive

Bill Vossler - Cars, Trucks and Buses Made by Tractor Companies

Lyndon W Rowe - Municipal buses of the 1960s

Edward S. Kaminsky - American Car & Foundry Company 1899-1999

Dylan Frautschi - Greyhound in Postcards: Buses, Depots and Post Houses


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