Life Without Pallets or Forklifts?
by Paula Heikell
When you look closely at a shipping pallet, it’s a marvel in its simplicity. But combined with a forklift, it forms the backbone of efficient shipping practices for many companies.
The exact first date of pallet usage is not clear, but according to Rick LeBlanc, pallet-like structures have been used as bases for at least a few hundred years for applications such as the safe stacking and stabilization of kegs.¹ As such, these early pallets were really wooden skids used solely for storage, not movement.
From Skids to Pallets
The original skids underwent continuous modifications until the design most familiar to us was introduced in 1925. This version introduced boards to the bottom of the skid for better weight distribution and less damage to products. Today’s pallets vary in shapes, sizes and the material they’re made from. According to Pallets Unlimited, the most common pallet size used, is 48 x 40 inches with a wood thickness of 5/8 inch and can hold 4,600 lbs.
Transporting Pallets Evolves
Lift trucks to move pallets more efficiently began emerging in the late 1800s, with continuous improvements being made into the late 1920s, when the design of the first “modern” forklift made vertical stacking and movement possible.
What was life like without these two tools? Extremely laborious. In the 1930s, a boxcar with 13,000 cases of canned goods would take about three days to completely unload; these same canned goods loaded onto pallets took a mere four hours to unload.¹
Trade magazine advertisements from the 1920s provide the first evidence of pallets being shipped by rail domestically in the U.S. However, the pallet and forklift combination was instrumental to efficient logistics operations for the military during World War II. Once the war was over, a growing number of businesses quickly noted the efficiency of pallets and forklifts and adopted them into their operations.
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¹ LCN Cranes, “The History of the Wooden Pallet”
² Rick LeBlanc, Packing evolution.Net, “What Came First, the Pallet or the Forklift,”July 12, 2014.
³ Rick LeBlanc.