The History of NATSO
On May 20, 1960, a handful of individuals met together in Washington, D.C., to begin a process that led to the creation of a nationwide trade association for members and participants in one of the nation’s most rapidly growing industries: the truck stops and travel centers along America’s roads and highways.
The organization that was established by those pioneers back in 1960 was known as the National Association of Truckstop Operators, and is now NATSO.
NATSO today represents more than 260 corporate members with over 16,000 fuel stations. The industry has over 5,000 travel centers, and annual sales run over 200 billion.
The Early Days
Early models of truck stop originated in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when a small number of 24-hour roadside facilities, designed to provide fuel and a complete range of services to the trucker, popped up independently across the country. This was, of course, long before the modern Interstate system, when highways such as the legendary U.S. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles and U.S. 1 along the East Coast were the arteries that carried America’s truckers from farms and factories to the consumer. By the 1950s, however, companies such as Pure Oil, Amoco, and Skelly began to develop divisions particularly oriented toward the truck stop segment.
The Development of the Interstate System
By the 1950s, from coast to coast in North America, the trucking industry had come into its own as the nation’s chief method of hauling freight. The post-World War II economic boom aided the astonishing growth of America’s cities and the creation of a network of suburbs and industrial communities. This economic expansion also led to the rapid development of national transportation infrastructure. Immediately after the war, during the Truman Administration, transportation experts suggested the creation of a national system of federally funded superhighways that would provide a quicker means of moving both goods and passengers between major cities. By the mid-1950s, the Eisenhower Administration and Congress created the Highway Trust Fund and the Interstate Highway System.
By 1959, the interstate system was growing rapidly, evident in virtually every state in the union. Hardly a month went by without one state or another staging the opening ceremony for a brand new freeway or throughway.
During a series of exploratory meetings in 1960, the idea to create a national association of truck stops was born.
Forming the Association
The first recorded meeting occurred on May 20, in Washington, D.C. Included in that first session were Oran V. Jarrell of Jarrell’s and Glancy in Hewlett, Va.; Frank Cherry of Cherry’s Truckstop in Savannah, Tenn.; J.J. McKenna of the Sohio Truckstop in North Lima, Ohio; John Sorentino of Soroco Inc., in North Bergen, N. J.; and Jeff Isbell of National Truckers Service Inc. (NTS). Dave White and Tom Leader, publishers of the brand new process of putting together a nationwide directory of truck stops to be used by truckers and trucking firms, were asked by participants in the May 20 meeting to formulate plans for “a new and separate organization to unite all truck stops throughout the forty-eight states.”
On Aug. 15, 1960, another meeting was held in Washington, with the addition of several new participants. After some discussion, a by-laws committee was created. Truck Stop magazine was designated as the official publication of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators.
According to the minutes of that meeting, NATSO was established with three purposes in mind. First and foremost was “to secure cooperative action in advancing the common purposes of truck stop operators.” In addition, NATSO would provide financial ratings of trucking firms seeking credit, assistance in the collection of delinquent accounts and bad checks, group insurance, legislative analysis and lobbying, business analysis, and an annual convention “to exchange information and ideas.” Also, the group would produce a monthly publication about the truck stop industry.
The NATSO Foundation
Founded in 1989, the NATSO Foundation, an affiliated charitable organization, is the research, education, and public outreach arm of the travel center and truck stop industry. In partnership with NATSO members across the country, the foundation’s pursuits have not only armed the industry with the research necessary to remain competitive and informed, but they have also changed the lives of countless people across the nation. The Bill and Carolyn Moon Scholarship Program, which began in 1993, has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships. They are also leading the industry in efforts to save lives during roadside repairs.
During the early restrictions of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, NATSO played a critical role in advocating for our members and provided daily updates on the rapidly evolving situation, and advocated for truck stops to stay open as an essential service to keep the supply chain moving. NATSO also worked with vendor partners to provide up-to-date resources for our members for reputable vendor partners that supplied COVID-19-related products like PPE, temperature-taking kiosks, technology, and disinfection solutions.
Today, NATSO represents six of the seven largest truck stop chains, two out of the three of the largest C-store chains, and hundreds of independent locations across the United States. Over the past decade, distinct members have grown by 70%, and the number of locations NATSO represents has grown by over 55%.
NATSO’s mission has evolved to advance the diverse truck stop industry: Through advocacy, information, and collaboration, NATSO serves and provides value to its members.
NATSO’s government affairs operations have helped stave off threats of rest area commercialization and have continued to push the industry’s legislative agenda forward on Capitol Hill. The engagement team has a sharp focus on providing members with real-value opportunities and offering solutions to help future-proof their business.
The seven individuals who gathered over 60 years ago likely had no doubt they were creating what would become a major national association serving as the preeminent voice of the truck stop and travel center industry. That voice rings as loud and true today as it did then. NATSO is an association on target and on message – ready, willing, and able to meet the needs of its diverse membership base every step of the way.