We often take for granted that we live in a complex world made possible through world-class logistics. Pallets, boxes, and forklifts make it all happen.
Pallets Move the World”
So What Gave Rise to Today’s Pallet?
Gilbert P. Dempsey and David G. Martens, both USDA Forest Service researchers, advised two factors led to the real rise of the pallet. The first was the 1937 invention of gas-powered forklift trucks, which “allowed goods to be moved, stacked, and stored with extraordinary speed and versatility.” The second factor was the needs of World War II logistics operations – tens of millions of pallets were employed.
“Looking to improve turnaround times for materials handling [during WWII], a Navy Supply Corps officer named Norman Cahners invented the “four-way pallet.” This relatively minor refinement, which featured notches cut in the side so that forklifts could pick up pallets from any direction, doubled material-handling productivity per man.”2
The pallet has basically stayed the same since WWII. The most notable change, used throughout Europe and adopted by Costco is the block pallet. Block pallets are essentially an improvement on the four-way pallet. The deck boards rest on sturdy blocks, rather than long cross boards, or stringers, which make them even easier for forklifts and pallet jacks to pick up from any angle.
Forklifts Power Global Storage Efficiencies
So Which Came First?
We know that the needs of World War II logistics operations led to the rise and popularity of both the pallet and the forklift. However, determining which actually came first, the pallet or the forklift, is not as clear.
For throughout time, materials handling solutions have evolved. With each improvement, our global economy is transformed. As the great Greek mathematician of classical antiquity, Archimedes, exclaimed regarding the lever, ”Give me but one firm spot on which to stand and I will move the earth.”