LAS VEGAS - Leonard S. Shoen, co-founder of U-Haul International, died last month at the age of 83 after driving his car into a wooden utility pole in Las Vegas. The Clark County, Nev., coroner's office ruled his death a suicide.
Mr. Shoen founded U-Haul in 1945. He developed the one-way trailer concept after noticing the need for families throughout the United States to move after World War II. He developed a network of U-Haul dealerships, which operated out of service stations along the Pacific Coast, eventually expanding the network nationally. Mr. Shoen spent a great deal of time in the early years on the road himself, repairing the bright orange trailers.
Over the years, U-Haul has made several largely unsuccessful attempts to expand into general equipment rentals. While a number of U-Haul locations still offer tools and small construction equipment, they are not considered a major factor in that business. However, the Phoenix-based company is considered the world's largest truck and trailer rental firm, with about 14,000 independent dealers and 1,100 company-owned moving centers.
During the 1980s, Mr. Shoen's children began a battle for control over the company. A faction led by two of his sons, Joseph and Mark Shoen, who wanted to focus the company on trailer rentals, gained control over the company. In 1986, they ousted their father in a much-publicized struggle. Mr. Shoen and other family members later won a $1.5 billion jury award. A judge reduced the award to $461 million, which still forced the company to seek bankruptcy protection from the debt.
Since leaving U-Haul, Mr. Shoen, who married five times, lived in Las Vegas. He is survived by his wife, Carol, and 13 children.