A Brief History of Warehousing and Logistics
Posted on 11.08.2020
With the new world of just-in-time (JIT) delivery, globalised supply chains and online shopping giants, many would consider warehousing and logistics to be a relatively newly developed economic sector.
However, while it’s certainly true that we’re now more reliant on international logistics than ever, warehousing – as a practice of stockpiling goods in dedicated, central hubs for commercial purposes – has been important for humans since the beginning of trade between nations.
A series of developments
Historically, the development of warehousing is a symbol of an advanced commercial
civilisation. In ancient Rome, a specific warehousing and distribution area called the Horrea Galba was developed on the river Tiber near Ostia, the city of Rome’s port. For scale, the warehousing complex covered 225,000 square feet, about the size of five football pitches or half the total size of Amco’s site in Redditch.
After the fall of Rome in the middle of the first millennium and the subsequent Dark Ages,
international trade began again with a vengeance in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the
medieval logistics sector often struggled as taxing foreign goods was one of the most reliable ways for early states to make money. Merchants in the UK and most of Europe much preferred to store goods in large personal stockpiles as a result.
Some nations, however, virtually made their names in the logistics sector. Venice served as a crossroads for goods from all over Europe and Asia. As a result, a type of bonded warehousing was developed, where goods could be held tax-free until they left Venice, rather than duties being payable upon entry. This helped to secure lines of credit and reduce risk for traders.
Interestingly, Venice and the Byzantine Empire even established the first international free-trade zone between themselves, in the eleventh century!
The Industrial Revolution led to new innovations in warehousing, especially in the UK.
Warehouses got bigger, steam-powered cranes transformed warehouse picking and
international shipping of goods became commonplace. As in ancient Rome, whole warehousing districts sprung up in Manchester, London, Bristol and Liverpool.
Two further inventions gave us the logistics sector we know today. The forklift truck, which came into widespread use in the 1950s, allows tonnes of goods to be moved at a time and organised into accessible pallet-storage layouts. Finally, new communications technologies allow goods to be ordered, located and then delivered within precise time-frames and faster than they ever have been before.