The History of Wooden Pallets
You might ask yourself, which came first: the wooden pallet or the forklift? Surprisingly, this question is more complicated than you might think.
For almost a century, the wooden pallet has been the backbone of the transport goods industry. It has played a major role in the history of the U.S. and the global economy. It has increased efficiency and safety when storing and transporting goods across the world.
To better understand the significance of the wooden pallet in today’s world, let’s take a deeper dive into its history.
The Early Wooden Pallet
The origins of the wooden pallet can be dated back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The earliest known version is called a skid, which is simply a wood platform without a bottom deck.
For centuries, skids were used to store and transport materials and goods. They were particularly useful when moving boulders and other large objects during construction projects.
Pallets, as we know them today, began to take their modern form with the invention of the lift truck in 1917. As the lift truck morphed into the modern forklift, the skid was also modified out of necessity.
Initially, the skid was improved upon when two support boards, presently known as stringers, were added beneath the platform to lift it off the ground. This created a sturdy surface for goods to sit on while having space below to easily slide something under to move it.
In 1925, Howard T. Hallowell filed the first U.S. patent for a skid platform. He referred to it as a “lift truck platform.” In his design, wooden planks were attached to two stringers.
As the design of forklifts continued to improve and become more mechanized, the skid platform also evolved. Until the late 1930s, skid platforms could come in a variety of sizes. This created an issue, as they could be too big or too small for the forklift to carry properly.
In 1939, George G. Raymond, founder of the Raymond Handling Concepts Corporation, filed his patent for a “two-face pallet” design. Many of his design features are still used today in modern wooden pallets.
In Raymond’s design, he took the basic skid platform and added a bottom platform. This created a top platform, or face, where the load is supported, and a bottom face where the load rests on the ground. Sandwiched between the two platforms are two stringers, which provide the entry for the forks to lift the pallet.
This new design created additional stability and stackability for the pallet design. It also began to standardize pallets. These benefits increased the wooden pallets’ popularity and use.
World War II
The demand for wooden pallets skyrocketed during World War II with the growing need to transport equipment, materials, supplies, and weapons. The U.S. and other Allied Forces relied on wooden pallets to ship large quantities of goods overseas and to ensure they made it to the frontline in good condition.
It was during this time that additional enhancements were made to the wooden pallet to increase supply chain efficiency. For example, the four-way entry pallet was introduced, which added notches in the two stringers to allow forklifts to access all four sides of the pallet.
Another change was to standardize the size of the pallet to 48 by 48. This helped simplify military logistics as they knew the exact size of the pallets that would be used to store and move their supplies.
As the military increased their use of wooden pallets, so did businesses. Mass production was expanding, and businesses saw the value in using wooden pallets to transport their goods.
Post-World War II
As is the necessity during a war, new iterations of the wooden pallet were implemented and used. However, the patents were not formally filed until after the war ended.
Here are three important patents that were filed after World War II:
Robert Braun submitted an early patent for a four-way entry pallet.
Norman Cahners, a U.S. Navy supply officer, filed his patent for the first modern disposable four-way block pallet.
Darling Graeme registered his patent for a modern four-way entry stringer pallet. Graeme’s design is the one that most closely resembles what is still used today.
The 1950s and 1960s
After World War II ended, wooden pallets became the standard in the shipping industry. More and more American businesses began to use them to transport their wares. Pallets not only influenced the way that goods were stored and shipped, but they also helped revolutionize the way that trucks and warehouses were designed.
Due to the different ways that pallets needed to be used, wooden pallet manufacturers had to consider transportation on trucks, airplanes, trains, and boats. They also had to assess the storing of goods in warehouses, passing through doors and down aisles, fitting in racks, and being stacked.
Although there are no universal standard dimensions accepted by all organizations, it was during the 50s and 60s that standards were established by specific groups. Here are two examples that are still recognized today.
European railway companies came together to develop a standard pallet to be used across Europe. The intention was to make loading and unloading freight cars faster. This resulted in the first European dimensional and quality standards for wooden pallets. It is known today as the Euro pallet.
General Foods recognized the need for a standard pallet to be used in the grocery industry. They strongly encouraged the Grocery Manufacturer Association (GMA) to develop one. GMA designed a 48 by 40 pallet, known as the GMA pallet, which was introduced to standardize the distribution operations of consumer goods in the United States.
Other pallet standards introduced during this time include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) pallet, Australian Standard Pallet, and Grocery Products Manufacturers of Canada (GPMC) pallet.
The Modern Wooden Pallet
While today’s wooden pallets resemble the original two- and four-way pallets designed over 70 years ago, they have evolved in many ways. The treatment of the wood and manufacturing of the pallets has been modernized to be more effective and efficient.
Another major change in the modern wooden pallet is the focus on sustainability. Wooden pallet manufacturers, like Challenger Pallet, are committed to doing their part to reuse and repair wooden pallets to reduce waste and keep them out of landfills. When parts of wooden pallets cannot be reused or repaired, they can be recycled and turned into by-products to be used in other ways, such as firewood, sawdust, and wood chips.
For further information about pallets, sustainability, or their environmental impact, visit our website to see all the services Challenger Pallet has to offer.