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The History of Pallets Through The Ages

May 11, 2023

The unassuming wooden pallet is tantamount to the global shipping industry, but has interesting origins. There have been many different iterations of pallets since the 20th century, which have evolved with trends in society and logistics. Even though the design has changed slowly, the function remains the same: to provide a simple and stable base for goods to travel across land and oceans. Pallets have undergone significant evolution over the years, from the crude wooden pallets of the early 20th century to the modern plastic and biodegradable pallets of today. These changes have been driven by a combination of external pressures, such as advancements in technology, increased demand for sustainability, and changing requirements of the shipping industry. In this article, we will explore the different types of pallet construction and the various exogenous pressures that have influenced their evolution. 



The modern wooden pallet was invented in the United States during the 1920s. The first pallets were crude and made of low-quality lumber. They were used primarily to move goods within factories and warehouses.



During the 1940s, pallets began to gain wider acceptance and use in the shipping industry due to several factors. One of the most significant developments was the increasing use of forklifts, which allowed goods to be moved more quickly and efficiently. This growth in forklift use was driven by the need for faster loading and unloading of goods, as well as the desire to reduce labour costs. In addition, the onset of World War II meant that there was a greater need to transport materials and supplies quickly and efficiently, which further increased demand for pallets. The Allies realised the efficiencies that could be gained by standardising pallet sizes when trying to ship goods across the Pacific without spoilage and with minimal waste. Therefore, the 48×40 pallet size led to easier resource sharing and re-use, and remains the size in use today.


In the 1960s, pallets had become a crucial part of the shipping industry, particularly in North America. During this time, the widespread use of forklifts and the adoption of a standard pallet size led to significant improvements in efficiency and speed. However, this progress was not without its challenges. As more companies began to adopt palletizer machines, which automatically stacked and wrapped pallets, labour unions became concerned about the impact on jobs. Union strikes were organised to protest the use of these machines, which were seen as a threat to manual labour jobs. Despite these challenges, the adoption of palletizer machines continued to grow, driven by the need for faster and more efficient production.


In the 1970s, plastic pallets began to gain popularity in the shipping industry due to their lighter weight and increased durability. These pallets were made of high-density polyethylene or other plastic materials, which made them more resistant to moisture, pests, and damage than traditional wooden pallets. Plastic pallets were also easier to clean and sanitize, which made them ideal for shipping food, pharmaceuticals, and other sensitive goods. In addition, their lighter weight made them more cost-effective to transport, since they could be stacked higher and moved more easily by forklifts.

2000s – present

From the 2000s, the global supply chain absolutely exploded due to e-commerce technologies. This led to an increased demand for pallets as more goods circled the planet, travelling to places faster and more efficiently than they ever had before. However, this growth also brought new challenges, particularly around sustainability and the environmental impact of shipping. As a result, there has been a recent trend towards sustainable packaging, including the use of biodegradable and reusable pallets. These pallets are made from eco-friendly materials such as bamboo, recycled plastic, and other biodegradable substances, which reduce the environmental impact of shipping and help companies meet their sustainability goals. In addition, many companies have adopted circular economy practices, such as reusing and recycling pallets, to reduce waste and improve sustainability. As the global supply chain continues to expand, it is likely that these trends will continue to shape the evolution of pallets and other shipping technologies in the years to come.

Therefore, pallets have played an essential role in the shipping industry for over a century, evolving over time to meet the needs of the global economy. Pallet technology has continued to evolve in synchronisation with new challenges and demands. While globalisation and the growth of the global supply chain have driven much of this evolution, sustainability and the need for more eco-friendly packaging are increasingly shaping the future of pallets and other shipping technologies. As the world continues to become more interconnected, it is likely that pallets and other shipping technologies will continue to evolve and improve, driven by new technologies, changing consumer demands, and the ongoing need for more efficient and sustainable shipping practices.