Discharged from the Navy in the summer of 1945, 29-year-old Sam and Anna Mary tried to rent a utility trailer to move their possessions from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore. It couldn't be done. They had to take only what they could fit in the family car, a 1937 Ford
See the promo photo below for an accurate idea of what fit in a trailer instead
The Shoens reasoned that many other families had a need similar to theirs: the short-term availability of a trailer that could be rented "here" and left "there." No one, at that time, seemed ready or willing to serve that need.
That winter, to cut expenses "to the bone," Sam and Anna Mary moved in with her folks on the family ranch. They were broke, but believed they had a business. Based on his appearance of success, Sam obtained credit from a local lumber yard and was able to obtain war-surplus steel from a Navy yard.
There were some major start-up hurdles, including the trailers themselves.
They purchased trailers— the first versions were built by a welding shop, generally a frame and tongue built on the running gear of scrapped automobiles, what Sam would later call "junkers"— which broke down with painful frequency, often costing more to repair than could be covered by rental fees. They were terrible.
So, in response to that failure to hire good help, they turned to trusted family to help build trailers and one of the first batch came from Hap Carty, Anna's brother, among the few who have been part of the company for 50 years or more. Hap went on to become president of U-Haul International, but started by building some of U-Haul’s first trailers on the family ranch.
Hap welded his name onto a piece of steel on one old trailer, along with the year it was built: 1946. Those wooden side boards lumber came from trees that had been felled on the ranch.
In 1955 Frank was hired to move trailers, and in years after that became a field manager, regional manager, and rental business manager. He became the 1st, and maybe only, team member to work at U Haul for 60 years, starting at age 25. Great story: http://myuhaulstory.com/2015/06/10/meet-team-logan-frank/
When U-Haul started renting trucks in 1959, the first one was built off a Dodge chassis.
In the 70s, operating from the new main office building in Phoenix, the U Haul company started making "Travel Centers" mostly by buying up gas stations that had been driven out of business by the oil embargo / gas crisis, and corporatization of service stations, putting mom and pop operations out of business.
Oil companies closed tens of thousands of service stations, the basis of U-Haul’s rental network. So the company started opening its own sites. They bought a closed Gulf station in 1974 and converted it into a U-Haul moving center, and even a Humpty Dumpty potato chip factory in Montreal.
To make the Reno location stand out and be easy to find, they installed a trailer on a rotating sign post at the former Exxon service station, and when it was pulled down after 40 years for a new paint job and new lights, the mayor's office was suddenly hit with calls from locals, and even one from an airline pilot that used it as a landmark when approaching the Reno-Tahoe airport!