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Chattanooga, Tennessee

International Towing and Recovery Museum

This museum dedicated to an oft-overlooked support industry features a surprisingly moving brass diorama of a man being saved from a sinking car. 

Just when you think you’ve seen a museum dedicated to everything under the sun, you stumble across the International Towing and Recovery Museum which devotes itself to celebrating the history of towing and vehicle recovery including the technology involved and those that who have died in the quest to clear roads and save lives.

According to the museum, it was in 1916 that the first tow truck was invented in the city of Chatanooga, Tennessee, and it was this American innovation that sparked an entire industry (and arguably culture) of vehicle recovery that has only grown and evolved to today. Starting as a traveling exhibition in the 1980’s the collection displayed trucks, artifacts, and exhibits about the history of towing. Then in 1995, the official museum opened right in the heart of Chattanooga, where it all began.

Today the collection has grown, and was moved to the larger space of its current home in 2006. Restored antique salvage trucks and cranes are arrayed across the show floor accented by exhibits featuring artifacts and ephemera from the proud industry’s history. The most arresting of the displays, the Wall of the Fallen, was installed outside the museum in 2006. The memorial honors those who lost their lives in the service of recovery. It features a name wall not unlike a military memorial, which surrounds a small pool out of which juts a bronze statue showing a man pulling a dangling man from the water. A single automobile taillight juts from the water as though sinking beneath the waves.

Most people get pretty upset when their car gets towed, but maybe a visit to the Towing Museum could get them to rethink the human cost of removing a vehicle.