J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc.

J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., based in Lowell (Benton County), is Arkansas’s largest trucking company and one of the largest transportation logistics providers in North America, acting as the agent for the companies whose goods they are shipping. This Arkansas-based company employs 14,667 people and operates 9,688 tractors and 24,576 trailers, with annual revenues exceeding $3.7 billion.

Company founder Johnnie Bryan Hunt was born in 1927 in rural Cleburne County and left school after the seventh grade to work in his uncle’s sawmill. He spent his early adult life working jobs that ranged from picking cotton to selling lumber to driving a truck and eventually to serving in the Army. After returning from the Army in 1947, Hunt’s first business venture was a livestock sale barn. The business did not succeed and was eventually sold. Hunt spent the next several years driving for numerous regional trucking companies.

One particular route went through Stuttgart (Arkansas County), where Hunt noticed rice farmers burning the hulls from their harvested crop. Hunt had once considered creating poultry bedding from sawdust, but he saw rice hulls as a possible substitute. In 1961, he engineered a method of using rice hulls for poultry litter, but he lacked the capital necessary to start his business. In less than one week, he secured enough investors in his proposed operation to start the J. B. Hunt Company in Stuttgart. The company lost more than $19,000 in 1961, but within five years, the business had become the world’s largest producer of poultry litter.

In 1969, the company purchased a small trucking operation consisting of five tractors and seven trailers, and J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., was born. It was initially a sideline business to Hunt’s rice hull operation. In 1972, the company moved its headquarters from Stuttgart to Lowell. At the start of 1983, the company ranked as the eightieth largest trucking carrier in the United States. That same year, Hunt sold his rice hull operation to focus on trucking. J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., went public in 1983, offering more than one million shares of stock. The effects were felt immediately, and the company began a period of rapid growth. By 1987, J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., was the largest publicly traded trucking company in the United States. Between 1980 and 1990, the company grew 2,000 percent.

In 1989, J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., partnered with the Santa Fe Railway, now BNSF, to form the transportation industry’s first ever-large scale partnership between a major trucking carrier and a railroad. The partnership was a huge success, and the company began expanding partnerships with numerous railroads and maritime companies to seize opportunities in intermodal shipping, the transporting of goods through various shipping venues. Through intermodal shipping, the company was able to cut costs and move goods more efficiently than their competition, ushering in a period of rapid growth and leaving the traditional trucking component the smallest part of the company’s operations. The expansion of the company resulted in annual revenue of more than $1 billion by 1993. By 1999, annual revenues had grown beyond $2 billion. Hunt retired from his position of chairman in 1995, but he continued to steer the corporation as senior chairman until the end of 2004, when he fully retired. Hunt died December 7, 2006. In 2004, the company employed over 16,000 people and had revenues of more than $2.3 billion. Significant downsizing of the company reduced the number of tractors and trailers in 2007 and 2008.

In late 2021 and 2022, the company established four new transload locations for better access to rail lines and highways; they were opened in Jersey City, New Jersey; Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; and Laredo, Texas.

For additional information:
J. B. Hunt. http://www.jbhunt.com/ (accessed October 5, 2022).

Schwartz, Marvin. J. B. Hunt: The Long Haul to Success. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992.

Thompson, Kirk, and Matthew A. Waller. Purple on the Inside: How J.B. Hunt Transport Set Itself Apart in a Field of Brown Cows. N.p.: Epic Books, 2019.

Zac Cothren
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program


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