Fifty years ago there was little emphasis on the design and efficiency of roof rack cross bars.  Let’s take a short look at the history of these very useful vehicle additions.

The early days:

The earliest vehicle racks were known as “luggage racks.”   These simple racks allowed consumers to strap their baggage to the outside of their cars for extended trips.

Many of the early solutions were the products of machinists and their machine tools who had the expertise to create utilitarian racks.  The material of choice was generally galvanized steel tubing.  This metal was strong and easy to work with as it could be bent and welded.  Galvanizing precluded rust and corrosion.

What they offered in usefulness, they lacked in aesthetics, aerodynamics and simplicity.

Rise of the outdoor enthusiast and Industry Growth

Over the course of the 1960s there was increasing interest in outdoor activities such as camping, river boating and bicycling.  As a result, the emerging outdoor enthusiasts increasingly needed roof rack solutions to transport their ever growing quivers of gear.

A number of roof rack manufacturers surfaced in the early 1970s to accommodate the growing demand.  Enthusiasts wanted the ability to get their big and bulky equipment onto their vehicles.  1973 was a banner year with the introduction of the “Gold Rush Bar” from what would become known as Yakima Industries and the original trunk mounted rack from Hollywood Racks.

Another innovator in the space, Thule introduced their first ski rack as early as 1962, and their first roof box was released in 1977.  By the early 1980s, vehicle manufacturers began producing cars without the traditional rain gutters, and the aftermarket rack manufacturers responded with designs that clip to the door frame of the vehicle.

Recent developments

Over the years, most roof rack cross bars have been square or round shapes based on standard extrusions.  These utilitarian shapes are strong and sturdy, but they lack aesthetics and tend to generate quite a bit of wind noise.

More recently, major roof rack manufacturers have focused on aerodynamics and reduction of wind noise.  These aluminum extrusions look modern, are resistant to corrosion and run quite on the top of vehicles.


Roof rack systems have continuously progressed over the years from very basic, machine shop creations to sophisticated units that look beautiful and function well.  Undoubtedly, the progression will continue and systems will be increasingly easy to install and use with growing functionality.