What came first the pallet or the fork? During Egyptian and Roman times cranes were used for loading supplies onto ships. Loads were physically placed into nets or onto platforms which were then lifted onto the ship’s deck before being put into the hold, a practice that remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Loading and unloading ships required expert knowledge of the proper techniques for lifting and stowing cargo from which specialist trades developed like stevedores and longshoremen.
During the industrial revolution as more products were being moved, speed and efficiency became increasingly important and in 1845 William George Armstrong invented a hydraulic crane that could unload ships faster and more economically than conventional cranes. These were quickly put into use in many ports in the UK. Standard packing measurements and weights started to appear; the wool bale for example became standard of size and weight which allowed for efficient transport and storage, but the business of loading and unloading was still a very manual process.
The First World War brought about the need to transport vast quantities of materials by rail and sea. Standard sized wooden boxes and crates were introduced which were durable and easy to stack. The first mechanical trollies with limited lifting capabilities appeared by the 1920’s and it was likely that these were picking up crates and boxes fitted with feet or skids attached to cross members.
The first vertical or masted forklift was built in 1923. Engineers at Yale University created an electric truck that could lift the forks and the load up via the mast making use of a ratchet and pinion system. In 1924 Clark produced a masted truck using round link chain which could be the first true forklift. Both early examples had forks which we would recognise today, and it would revolutionize the way things were stored. Only the non-standard pallet sizes prevented these early forklifts from gaining widespread acceptance.
The forklift arm or forks, the pallets and forklift design evolved together during the 1930s and 1940s, but it was the mass production brought about by the second world war that the forklift came into its own. A universal 48” X 48” standard size pallet was finally established between allied countries which allowed for ease of shipment and transportation making the use of the pallet and forklift a key component of military logistics. The pallet we would know today was born.
Forks are now fitted to many types of equipment – not just forklifts, telehandler, front loader and cranes as its use brings numerous handling and storage efficiencies.
Our opinion is that the fork came first; lifting boxes and crates and the pallet as we know it today was invented in the early 1940s.