The wooden pallet has been in use for 110 years. During this time it has evolved to an integral and vital part of the logistics industry. Most things do not get from here to there without using pallets. Pallets took on new importance during World War II and have continued to evolve ever since. Implementation of the fork-lift and corrugated packaging were the catalysts for the rapid growth of the pallet. Today the pallet plays an important part in the way goods and equipment are shipped.
The first pallets were actually skids, constructed of a solid top of 2 inch deck lumber and stringers of about 7 inches high by today’s standards. They appeared about 1897 along with the first primitive hand trucks that could manually lift a skid a few inches off the ground. The high stringers allowed for the early fork-lift to slip under the skid. It was then manually raised from the floor by the operator by pushing the truck handle up and down, the mechanism was either pneumatic or ratchet. After the skid was raised, it could be maneuvered through the plant. The precursor to the pallet, the skid, was solely used to move material around a manufacturing plant. Late in the first decade of the 1900s, a rudimentary motorized skid truck was introduced, making skids far more popular. Still, rather than the skid being the packaging unit, it was used only to move other containers, such as barrels, crates and sacks within the plant interior.
World War II
Things were in place to utilize the pallet when the war broke out in Europe. Forklift trucks were made with the motor in back in back to counterbalance the weight of the load, and the forklift mechanism was able to tilt and raise. Corrugated and fiberboard containers were accepted by all freight carriers. Unfortunately, skids and pallets were of poor construction and subject to easy damage and destruction. They were made in small amounts by local carpenters.
In 1937 the first wooden pallet company went into business. Their first customer was the United States Navy.
Historians of the pallet industry point to the war as the point where palletization of freight began. This is true, though the foundation was laid before the war. Economic factors such as, an abundance of labor, shortage of storage space and shortage of money to invest in material movement technology held development of pallets from growing more quickly.