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The Evolution of the Warehouse – Where it Began

Warehousing as we know it evolved from the granaries of early civilization that were built to store surplus food for future consumption. This process was further evolved by the Romans who built the Horrea Galbae which was the precursor to the modern-day warehouse where goods are stored for import, export, and distribution.

Roman Warehouse
Horrea Galbae

The Horrea Galbae itself was located on the Tiber River and contained over 140rooms within its 225,000 square feet of space. The structure housed the public’s grain as well as other imported goods. These structures were strategically located near seaports to make it easier for imported goods to be transferred from ships to the structure for housing and distribution. In later years, these warehouses would similarly be located near rail depots as railways became more popular for moving goods from one place to another.

The term “warehouse” was first coined in Britain in the 1300s, its meaning being “a structure or room for the storage of merchandise or commodities.” So, your “wares” were stored in this “house”. At this time in history, Britain was focused on expanding its territories across the sea and these “warehouses” were constructed in port cities all over the world, expanding global trade routes for import and export across the globe.

It was during the industrial revolution that the word “warehouse” was changed to a verb as goods were now “warehoused” for sale and distribution and the purpose of the warehouse shifted from static storage to the movement of goods. As mass production in factories grew, the need for more storage and efficient movement of goods became a vital aspect of trading.

the rise of the railroad for transportation led to more warehouses being built at these transportation hubs; allowing manufacturers to move their goods faster and farther than ever before. This expansion created new markets a swell as transformed small towns into bustling cities.

The Second Industrial Revolution took place in the late 1800s and was powered by electricity which further expanded the reach of manufacturing and distribution. It was during this time that

Sears, Roebuck & Co.
The Sears & Roebuck Chicago distribution complex

Sears, Roebuck & Co., became the “Amazon” of its time. The Sears catalog brought thousands of items into the hands of people across the country. From clothing and toys to appliances, medical supplies and so much more. This merchandise was housed in the huge Sears distribution complex in Chicago which covered 3 million square feet. Handwritten orders were received all year long; these were fulfilled by workers who searched endless aisles for the right product, size, color, etc. The need for automation was there, but the solution would not come fast enough for the weary warehouse workers.

The 1900s brought machine-driven factories that offered mass production of goods and new forms of transportation that gave manufacturers an even farther reach. Goods were now moved by land, sea, and air to reach more consumers and wherever these goods were shipped there was a warehouse to store and distribute them.

Assembly Line
Assembly Line Mass Production

Larger items were now easily mass-produced on assembly lines. Cars, appliances, and other items now required the use of hand trucks or motorized carts and forklifts to move the heavy parts from one place to another during the manufacturing process.

It was in the 1950s that the first automated guided vehicle (AGV) was introduced to carry heavy loads in factories ad warehouses. The AGV was akin to a tow truck that did not require a driver or rail system. It was navigated with a track of wires embedded in the floor that generated a magnetic field. The AGV became an integral part of the manufacturing process as it moved heavy materials along a defined route and removed repetitive and dangerous tasks previously performed by workers and allowed the workers to focus more on other tasks.