The first recorded uses of the hand pallet truck date back to the last decades of the 19th century, when the industrial revolution was in full swing. The multitude of factories, warehouses and manufacturing plants which were popping up all over the world needed to find new, efficiency ways to meet demand and transport their goods around workplaces which were increasing in size. A crude and basic low-lift hand pallet truck was invented in 1887 which would elevate a pallet (or a ‘skid’) a few inches from the floor by manual means. It would not yet facilitate the movement of goods from one place to another. Some years later, in 1909, a new version was crafted, made entirely from steel, and offering the same premise; minimal lifting and minimal movement. These early lifting trucks had platforms rather than forks, and so they were not initially used for lifting pallets, but rather just for goods themselves.
The high-lift pallet truck was introduced at the end of the 20th century’s first decade, and by 1926, pump trucks and pallet jacks started to resemble the trucks we know today. Pallets were more prevalent as a way of moving large volumes of goods, and the lifting tables of the older models gave way to forks designed to fit the pallets. The trucks which facilitated higher lifting also made it possible for factories and warehouses to stack pallets vertically when not in use and dramatically improve the efficiency of their storage systems.World War II during the 1940s saw pallets become a key component of logistics strategies across the world; rationing food, supplying aid and even transporting equipment for soldiers. This urgent demand for even more efficiency saw developments in the pallets themselves, such as four-way entry, which in turn saw more developments in the uses of pallet trucks. Once the war was over, the progress that had been made in the crafting and honing of hand pallet truck models filtered down from military use into commerce and allowed factories and warehouses to become even more efficient than previously.
The progress of pallets and pallet trucks since then has been steady, with general admission from experts that certain approaches and methods will increase efficiency tenfold. However, one of the globe’s largest companies, Costco, threw a spanner into the works last year, shaking up the pallet world with the announcement that they would be shifting to ‘block pallets’. These types of pallets were essentially an improvement on the four-way pallets invented by a Navy Seal during WWII; rather than the pallet deckboards resting on ‘stringers’, they rest on sturdy blocks instead. Costco unload a million trucks every year, and a common complaint was that with the old four-way pallets, warehouse workers couldn’t fit the forks of their pallet jack into the pallet if they were facing the wrong side. The switch to ‘block pallets’ made it easier for their pallet trucks to function and illustrates that the world of manual handling and pallet trucks is always changing and evolving to produce the best results.
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