The History of Logistics Technology

Melton Logistics – 05/09/2024

When thinking about the technology available to us today in the logistics industry, there are more resources than ever before. Modern loading bays, shipping ports, and cargo planes with deliveries spanning the globe are just few of the many inventions that make a business’ supply chain simpler, more transparent, and efficient.

 On average, shipping times today can range from 2 days to about 4 weeks depending on the origins and intended destination. It would surprise anyone to learn that prior to the 19th century, attempting to deliver the same cargo to the same locations could take anywhere from 4 to 8 months. We have come a long way in the past few centuries – let’s take a look the history of logistics, where we are now, and what the future might hold for the industry.

From Cavalry to Covered Wagons

Though the phrase ‘logistics’ wasn’t popularized until well into the 1800’s, most ancient civilizations had their own versions of logistics. They also had exceedingly efficient and effective systems for their times, and many techniques are still subject to study today. For example, the Mongol cavalry in the 13th  century were well known for their abilities to move mass amounts of troops across the land, along with everyday supplies like cattle, equipment, and food. Ancient Egyptians also had well developed transportation and storage techniques to maintain a steady supply of commodities well over 2000 years into the common era.

Major breakthroughs in global expansion would be seen under the Roman Empire with the incredible network of maritime shipping lanes, as well as their vast road network. The phrase “All roads lead to Rome” wasn’t just for show — the Roman road network stretched upwards of 250,000 miles during the peak of their reign and can still be seen in connecting much of Europe today.

With the seas conquered and new lands now available to the modern man, logistics was on the fast track to helping the world develop even faster than before.

Steam Powered Innovations

Following the industrial revolution in the 18th century, steam powered engines allowed ships to travel the oceans faster and for trains to cross the country in a matter of weeks. The invention of the combustion engine in 1823 would shorten that time even more.

With the addition of technological innovations in the telegraph giving way to radio and the telephone, and by extension radar and telephotography, these things would dramatically change how people, governments, and entire industries tackled their everyday shipping needs.

Train on a railroad

At the turn of the 1900’s when planes first lifted off and successfully touched back down, the modern race to globalization began. And the changes would come fast!

The Turn of the Millennium

In the wake of World Wars I and II, logistics would take a turn toward the more modern methods we use today. Automation in machinery and the introduction of warehousing systems would make transportation of goods by rail, truck, and ships even easier. The popularization and spread of shipping containers in the 1950s would help industries make the shift from transporting via rail to truck even faster.

In the 1960s and 70s, computers would change the game for inventory management and truck route optimization. With the invention of the internet in the 1990s, the data revolution would begin. Companies that previously plotted their routes on atlases would make the leap to digital map-based interfaces, and later be able to introduce satellite tracking. Logistics planning would transform in the span of 100 years, from the introduction of Just-In-Time shipping to the incorporation of warehouse management software and RFID technology.

…And Beyond

As the landscape currently stands in 2024, logistics is still an ever-changing field. Seeing the possibilities that are at hand, a common topic that comes up more is the promotion of additional values, most notably sustainability and human well-being. The emphasis on growth and change is always at the forefront of logistics, though – and with the topics of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, machine learning, and autonomous vehicles all at the forefront of discussions today, the door is always open for the next huge shift in logistics. 

Working with Melton Logistics

Ready to step up your logistics process? Melton Logistics is available for all of your logistics needs. With 24/7 load tracking technology and exceptional customer service, we’re ready to help. Click here to learn more about the services Melton Logistics offers!

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