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U-Haul pioneer, Tempe resident dies at 95

William E. “Hap” Carty, considered U-Haul's first employee, died in Tempe at the age of 95.
William E. “Hap” Carty, considered U-Haul's first employee, died in Tempe at the age of 95.
Courtesy U-Haul

An 18-year-old William E. “Hap” Carty, while on leave from the U.S. Army in 1945, helped his sister and brother-in-law with an upstart company they were building – quite literally – in a milk house on the Carty Ranch in Ridgefield, Washington.

The concept was to create a line of trailers families could rent for one-way moves. The business was to be called U-Haul.

Hap, nicknamed for being a happy child with a big smile, died on Friday. He was 95, according to a news release from U-Haul. 

Carty joined U-Haul full-time in 1946 following his discharge at the end of WWII, and in doing so became the company’s first employee. While he never cashed his paycheck from the first 10 trailers he helped build in that milk house, his tireless commitment and influence over the next 43 years shaped the foundation and growth of one of North America’s most recognizable companies.

“U-Haul would not exist today but for Hap,” said Joe Shoen, U-Haul CEO and son of the Company's late founders L.S. "Sam" and Anna Mary Carty Shoen, in a statement. “He was a recognized industry innovator who crossed paths with many industry stalwarts including John Rock, Red Pohling, Don Peterson, John DeLorean and Roger Penske. 

During his career, Carty served as president and Chairman of the Board for U-Haul International In 1971. As president of U-Haul, he brought the company’s network of independent U-Haul dealerships to 15,000, a record that stood for more than 30 years. 

“One of the reasons I’ve had good luck in management is that I always hire good people,” Carty told Amerco World (now U-Haul News) in 1981. “I get them strong in the areas I’m weak in, and we work together. I’ve lived this way for years and looked like a genius many times, because I had the buoyancy of good people.”

Carty was born on March 2, 1927. He and his wife, Toni, have six children: Gail, Tim, Martin, Kevin, Katie and Patrick, along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

The Carty family is synonymous with the rural Washington town 24 miles north of Portland, Ore., where a sign greets visitors: “Welcome to Ridgefield, birthplace of U-Haul.”

Hap Carty is equally tied to Tempe, where he lived the latter half of his life and was instrumental in opening the U-Haul Technical Center in 1970. Though just nine miles east of Phoenix, Tempe was largely undeveloped desert at the time. The U-Haul Tech Center not only signaled business expansion in Tempe, but it was the only research and development facility of its kind in the world, featuring a test track where rental equipment was rigorously tested to meet safety standards. Carty ran the facility, which still manufactures U-Haul trailers and truck boxes today.

From 1946 to 52, Carty assembled, painted, serviced and rented trailers. Then he took his wife, Toni, and their two children to Boston to establish the first U-Haul manufacturing plant on the East Coast, empowering the Company to become a nationwide brand.

“I had $500 with which to open Boston Trailer Manufacturing Company, but was on a $3 per diem allowance. We ate a lot of hot dogs cooked over open fires as we made our way across the continent,” Carty recalled. “The shop bore no relation to an automobile assembly line. It looked more like a village blacksmith shop, complete with hearth, hammer and anvil.”

In the 1960s, Carty was named U-Haul marketing director. He later became president of U-Haul subsidiary Kar-Go International, a role he held when he helped launch the Tech Center.

Carty retired on Jan. 1, 1988, and remained on the Board of Directors for AMERCO, parent company of U-Haul, through 2006. Even still, Carty could be seen frequently in the Company lunchroom, counseling younger managers and attending U-Haul functions, including one Team Member’s 50th anniversary celebration one week before he passed. 

While his legacy remains evident through the awards, images and quotes attributed to him across the U-Haul Midtown Campus in Phoenix, his real impact is felt through the lives he touched, professionally and personally, throughout the U-Haul network across North America.

Tempe, Arizona, U-Haul, Hap Carty, obituary, neighbors