WWII Veterans Remembered: U-Haul Honors American Innovator and Co-Founder L.S. “Sam” Shoen

Jun 26, 2020

U-Haul® was born as World War II was coming to a close, with its first one-way trailers made available to the moving public on or about July 4, 1945.

U-Haul co-founders L.S. Sam Shoen and Anna Mary Carty Shoen, circa 1944

Just as U-Haul is celebrating 75 years of service this year, America will soon celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day. This signifies Victory over Japan and is observed Sept. 2 when the signing of surrender occurred, effectively ending WWII.

Veterans such as the late L.S. “Sam” Shoen, a longtime Phoenix resident, pursued a new life after the war, and in doing so planted the seeds of prosperity for U-Haul, a product of the peace for which America fought.

Shoen, a WWII-era Navy veteran, and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, conceived U-Haul in June 1945 when they recognized a basic need while moving up the West Coast, having left behind most of their belongings since one-way trailer rentals did not yet exist. From that idea, an industry was created and a new level of mobility became attainable for every American family.

New Display at Pearl Harbor

Today, U-Haul is committed to honoring veterans and supporting veteran causes. This is accomplished through recruiting veterans and giving them hiring preference; direct assistance to veteran groups; participation and sponsorship of Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades; and supporting Pearl Harbor tributes.

The Company’s 75th anniversary tributes will peak triumphantly with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s dedication of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower on Aug. 29. A number of U-Haul Pacific Theater veterans’ bios and photos will be displayed in the tower lobby.

The tower will showcase a new elevator, gifted by U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen, providing public access to the observation deck where America’s lone WWII aviation battlefield can be revered and our heroes remembered.

Proud Navy Man

L.S. Sam Shoen with newborn son, circa 1945

L.S. “Sam” Shoen was born on Feb. 29, 1916, in McGrath, Minn., to Samuel and Sophia Shoen. He was the second of seven children. In 1923, the family moved to Shedd, Ore.

Shoen grew up in Shedd, and attended schools in Shedd and Turner. He attended a barber college after high school. A few years later, he ran a four-chair barber shop to pay his way through Oregon State University. Entering medical school just as WWII was starting, Shoen secured barber and beauty shop concessions at Camp Adair in Corvallis, Ore., and at the Atomic Project at Hanford, Wash. As a medical student, he was in the Navy V-12 program and immediately joined the Navy.

On Oct. 18, 1943, Shoen was sent to boot camp in Idaho and assigned to the Navy Hospital Corps as a hospital apprentice first class. He contracted scarlet fever while there and, after returning to duty, was transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Seattle. Illness struck again when he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. He had to be transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Corona, Calif.

Shoen received an honorable medical discharge from the Navy in June 1945. While he never faced the perils of combat, he was committed to serving and defending his country.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Upon his discharge, Shoen wanted to move his young bride and their infant son back to the Pacific Northwest. They shopped for a one-way trailer rental to transport their belongings. But there was no evidence of that service in the marketplace.

From their own dilemma, the couple conceived a business model based on the shared cost of automobile utility trailers to accommodate do-it-yourself families on a budget. On that drive up the California coastline from Corona to the Portland area, U-Haul was born.

The first U-Haul trailers were available in Portland within weeks to serve customers, many of whom were veterans returning from the war and ready to move their families to a new beginning. By the end of 1949, families could rent U-Haul trailers from city to city throughout most of the U.S.

Sam the Trailer Man

Shoen worked 16-hour days, maintaining and repairing U-Haul trailers at U-Haul dealership locations. He slept in his car and bathed in service-station restrooms. Anna Mary ran the business office while raising a family. She managed and mailed weekly reports and dealer commission checks, which she signed “A.M. Carty.” To early U-Haul Dealers, A.M. Carty was perceived as the “big wheel” executive in Portland, and Shoen was simply “Sam the Trailer Man,” an overworked employee.

The original “Sammy U” icon, circa 1953

In 1955, Shoen graduated from the Northwest College of Law at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. The company prospered. In 1967, Shoen relocated U-Haul headquarters to Midtown Phoenix, where it remains today.

Anna Mary died in 1957. Shoen passed away in 1999 and is survived by his second wife, Suzanne (nee Gilbaugh); children Joe, Mark, Paul, and Jim; grandchildren Sam, Stuart, Royal, Carty, Joseph, Jacque, Rose, John, Sarah, Ann, Mary and Lucy.

In the 1950s, the unmistakable “Sammy U” icon personified “Sam the Trailer Man.” This legacy is carried forth today by his family, including his grandson and namesake, Sam Shoen, who is a growing force in the company.

Veteran Ties and Appreciation

The Shoens started U-Haul upon Sam’s discharge with $4,000 of accumulated Navy pay and the courage formed by the cauldron of WWII. With the help of other veterans, the young couple forged their new enterprise from the freedom that victory produced.

Today, U-Haul serves all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, helping millions of families move every year. Shoen is one of the many veterans who laid the foundation for the present prosperity U-Haul enjoys.

U-Haul is one of a myriad of companies built by these incredible veterans, who are to be saluted and remembered during this 75th anniversary celebration. Thank you, Sam.

Find more veteran tributes in the History and Culture section of myuhaulstory.com.

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