Atkinson & Co. was founded in the Frenchwood district of Preston, the cotton town and administrative capital of Lancashire, by two of five brothers, Sir Edward Atkinson (1880–1932) and Sir Henry Birch Atkinson (1882–1921) with assistance from their brother-in-law George Hunt (1870–1950). The real and effective beginning of the company was in 1907, when the partners decided to capitalise on the need for local engineers to make temporary or permanent repairs to the increasing number of ‘pullcars’ and private motor vehicles on the road. By 1912, the organisation had moved to premises in Kendal Street and the number of employees had grown to twenty. In the same year a second, smaller repair centre was opened in Freemason’s Row, Liverpool, to cater for the enormous volume of steam traffic using the docks. Very soon the company made something of a name for itself in the north of England as quality repairers, and the growing number of operators brought new business from far and wide.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, demand for internal road transport grew considerably, the nation finding itself desperately throttled by the inadequacy of the railways to offer a complete transport network. The Atkinsons, shrewd observers at any time, decided to experiment by making a wagon of their own design, and in 1916, the first Atkinson six-tonne four-wheel steam wagon was produced in Kendal Street and became an instant success. The market enjoyed a short boom period following the Armistice and the Atkinsons, realising the potential, purchased a five-acre site of land near their homes in Frenchwood, on which they intended to erect a new and enlarged factory, solely designed for the production of steam wagons. Henry Atkinson died suddenly in 1921 and consequently the company fell into the hands of his brother Edward. At this time, new ideas and designs were constantly being tried out while production rose to a peak of some three wagons per week, and the total labour force rose to well over a hundred and fifty.
Edward Atkinson had a glorified view of steam and did not acknowledge the warnings when sales began to slow down in the mid-1920s. Leyland Motors Ltd sold their steam remnants to Atkinson in 1926, followed by Mann in 1929. There seems to have been various family rivalries at the time and the firm was undoubtedly in difficulties when Edward Atkinson decided to seek help from mine engineers and Pagefield lorry makers, Walker Brothers of Wigan. Under a new arrangement, Walkers manufactured Uniflow engines for Atkinsons, but by this time very few orders were forthcoming. Edward Atkinson had cancer and was unable to pay any dividends on the preference shares and finally abandoned wagon production in 1929 after a grand total of about 545 Atkinsons had been built. Edward Atkinson died in 1932 and a year later the firm he co-founded was acquired by London garage owner W. G. Allen, whose father had started Nightingale Garage. Allen was chairman of Atkinson Lorries (1933) Ltd and H. B. Fielding was managing director. Allen had effectively run the firm since 1931, and remained in charge until his death in 1949.
The production philosophy of trucks was similar to that of Seddon, ERF, Rutland (Motor Traction) and other competitors aiming for value-for-money lorry sales, viz: the assembly of tried and tested proprietary components. Nationalisation of Road Haulage in 1948 affected Atkinson as many of their customers were private sector general hauliers who were nationalised. Conversion of the plant on a conveyor system шт 1955 allowed the company in five years to produce 1100 chassis per year. Atkinson merged with Seddons of Oldham in 1970, which formed Seddon-Atkinson brand. The last "true" Atkinson, a Defender 8-wheel rigid bearing chassis number FC29941, was built at Atkinson's Walton-le-Dale works in 1975.