Milestones in logistics history

The IAA Commercial Vehicles is a leading platform for logistics solutions. Yet without some ground-breaking technologies and inventions such as trucks, today’s trade and freight transport would simply not function. Curtain up for major historic achievements!

Goods move on roads, rail and water – around the world and 24/7. Logistics is the clockwork that keeps global trade ticking. Yet which milestones in history have left their mark on freight transport and thus also on the technologies and solutions on display at the IAA Commercial Vehicles? In the first part of our series we look back in time to the beginning of the transportation business.

Picture source: National Museum Wales

1804: premiere for the locomotive

It is virtually impossible to say who invented the railways. A great number of people were involved in the developing this form of transport. The Englishman Richard Trevithick was the first engineer to get a locomotive based on James Watt’s steam engine to move on rails. On its maiden trip in south Wales, the “Pen-y-Darren” pulled five wagons carrying ten tonnes of freight and around 70 people. It took the locomotive four hours to travel 14 kilometers.

The first truck from Daimler in 1897. Picture source: Daimler AG

1896: the world’s first truck

The first commercial vehicle still resembled a coach with an engine in the back. Gottlieb Daimler’s “Lieferungswagen” was designed to take 1.5 tonnes of cargo and was powered by a two-cylinder engine generating four hp. However, Daimler failed to sell the vehicle in Germany and the first vehicle went to England. Only two years later, he presented a five-tonne truck with its engine and radiator at the front. Today, Daimler Trucks has a global market share of eleven percent, making it the largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in the world. In 2018 it sold over 500,000 trucks.

Picture source: UPS

1907: parcel services are born

DHL, Hermes, Fedex and... Who was actually the pioneer of delivery services? With only 100 US dollars and two bicycles to his name, James E. Casey founded the American Messenger Company, the world’s first parcel delivery service, in the city of Seattle in 1907. Several years later, it changed its name to United Parcel Service (UPS). The firm acquired its first motorized delivery vehicle – a Model T Ford – in 1913. Today more than 480,000 people work for the world’s largest express and parcel delivery company. In 2018, 5.2 billion packages and documents were transported by around 123,000 delivery vehicles, vans, tractors, motorcycles and the firm’s own 248 freight aircraft. It also uses a fleet of over 300 leased and rented aircraft.

Picture source: Toyota Motor Corporation

1953: the just-in-time revolution

At the beginning of the 1950s, the Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno was tasked with improving the efficiency and productivity of the Japanese auto maker so that it could catch up with the US manufacturers. The result was just-in-time and kanban. Toyota rose to become one of the world’s largest OEMs. Even today, Ohno’s achievements are still regarded as models for the production lines of competitors and other industrial companies. He was posthumously honored with a place in the Logistics Hall of Fame in recognition of his achievements.

Picture source: Unsplash

1956: invention of the container

In the mid-1950s, dockworkers had a hard job. A cargo was loaded onto a ship pallet by pallet, sack by sack, bale by bale. The teams needed days, sometimes weeks, to do the job. But on April 26, 1956, the transport entrepreneur Malcom Purcell McLean launched the world’s first container ship: the “Ideal X”. On board it had 58 of McLean’s steel boxes that also fitted exactly onto the chassis of his fleet of trucks. Using cranes, it took only a few hours to load and unload the ship. This was the birth of the standard container – and the beginning of a revolution in the transport business. Today the MV “OOCL Hong Kong” in the 400-meter long ultra large container ship class is the largest container ship in the world and can carry up to 21,413 standard containers.

1974: barcode breakthrough

A collection of lines of different widths, which code information about goods and prices: barcodes are also regarded as a pacemaker of modern logistics. Innovations such as automated cash desks and software-based storage would be inconceivable without barcodes. The inventors are held to be the Americans Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, who filed the patent for barcodes as early as 1949. But because there was no reader available, the idea was left lying in a drawer for quite a while. Barcodes did not have their premiere until 1974, when a supermarket in the state of Ohio used them for the first time to record an item with a modern scanner – a multi-pack of chewing gum.