The Impact of Pallet Storage on the Modern Warehouse
The origin of warehousing is older than most people might think. The earliest form was probably the granary. This would have been a simple shelter that served to store any excess grain harvested during the good years to provide a reserve for the villagers in the event of famine. It was the steady growth of trading states such as ancient Rome that, long before the invention of the pallet, prompted the need for vast areas of storage space. Interestingly, one such facility, located on the road to Rome’s port of Ostia, covered a total area of 21 000 square metres, more than twice that of most warehouses in the US today.
During the Middle Ages, as additional trade routes were opened up and new merchandise became available, other nations joined the market and soon needed to construct similar warehousing facilities in and around their ports. Today, however, such facilities are found not just at the dockside but in industrial complexes nationwide. While already large, without pallet storage, they would need to be far more extensive and probably more numerous also.
Initially, these buildings were used mainly to accommodate large items while the smaller packages were packed into storerooms, often within local shopkeepers’ homes. Following the industrial revolution, manufactured goods and canned foods of similar shapes and sizes enabled producers to pack large numbers of a given item into a single wooden crate or cardboard box. The resulting uniformity served to free up some badly needed extra space, even before the introduction of pallet storage. Because the boxes and crates could then be placed closer together and assembled into stable vertical stacks, warehouse owners could fit more goods into their existing space.
That said, the tasks of packing newly arrived goods and retrieving those scheduled for distribution to shops and factories required workers with sufficient strength and stamina to withstand a long day of backbreaking lifting and carrying. It was only in 1925, ten years after the invention of that forklift, that a modification to the skids used to move boxes and crates made pallet storage possible. The combination of lift trucks and wooden pallets would change warehousing’s nature forever, although not before one or two further modifications. It was an improved pallet design enabling forklift access from all four sides and the introduction of standardized sizes, which, together, proved to be the turning point for the industry.
From that point on, it was no longer necessary to handle each box and crate individually. Instead, the option to employ pallet storage meant it was then possible to mount multiple containers on a single wooden platform and use a lift truck to handle the much heavier load. The new option made it practical to store goods at greater heights and make better use of the available floor space. Even more significantly, it allowed a single forklift driver to perform tasks that would have previously required several operators on foot.
While there can be no doubt that the invention of the pallet had a profound effect on the storage industry, the story doesn’t end there. Today, while those uniform wooden platforms remain at the heart of the task, the entire handing process can now be fully automated and controlled from an office desk.