The History of Pallets

Chances are, like most people, you’ve bought many different things from many different stores. When you go to stores, especially warehouse stores, you may have noticed wooden pallets filled with your favorite items. Ever wonder how these pallets came about? If so, then you’re in luck. Let’s take a look at its history.



In order for a pallet system to work properly, it must be able to transport goods safely and efficiently. To get to this stage, appropriate transport vehicles must be developed. Decades after the Industrial Revolution began, factories started to mass-produce goods, which resulted in increased demand for efficient transportation methods.

In the late 1800s, low-lift trucks began to be used to transport the modern pallet’s ancient ancestor, the wooden skid. The low-lift trucks, unlike modern fork-lifts, could not lift loads very high. At best it could only lift the load a few inches off the ground. Also, the lifting and positioning of the skid could only be done manually. Eventually, as trucks became more advanced and newer models were introduced, pallet design started to improve with the newer models.


Early 1900s

In the 1900s, the trucks began to be made of entirely of steel to enhance strength and handle tougher loads. Next came trucks that could lift much higher. As a result, not only could pallets be moved within the warehouse, they could also be stacked on top of each other at greater heights.

As a result of advances in lifting technology, pallet design started to change. Eventually, spaces were added at the bottom to allow forks to be inserted and lift goods. Boards were then added resulting in the modern pallet.

In the 1920s, pallets started to get shipped via rail.


World War 2

World War 2 was a pivotal moment in the history of pallets. As a result of the Great Depression and lack of investment capital and demand, there was no incentive to invest in advanced techniques for material handling.

However, WW2 changed this. Initially, the military used manual methods to transport goods. Even after the military began to mobilize and ramp up the war effort, pallets were not used much.  Since powered equipment was not used initially, it became difficult for the military to store equipment for longer periods of time and get supplies out to the troops.

To improve efficiency, the military conducted studies of industrial plants that utilized efficient material handling methods. Their experts observed that facilities using fork-lifts and pallets were the most efficient and had greater capacity.

As a result, the military started to buy more fork-lifts and pallets. However, not enough fork-lifts could be produced. This led to some factories being converted to produce fork-lifts and use of overseas locations to manufacture them.

In addition to furthering the development of fork-lifts, the war also standardized pallet sizes. The standard size of 48×48 inches was set for pallets. Numerous measurements of boxes and goods used by the military was done to determine this figure. Soon, all allied countries started adhering to this standard.



As pallets and fork-lifts became more widely used, many warehouse functions started to get automated.  This led to many disputes with unions for longshoremen and teamsters since a lot of the manual jobs were starting to disappear. For example, jobs requiring workers to manually load pallets onto trucks were eliminated. As a result, unions were demanding some lost pay.

Besides increased automation, fork-lifts and pallets started to become more commonplace and heavily used. One major development occurred when the British company, Lansing Bagnall, made fork-lifts  narrower, which led to smaller isles and more storage capacity at warehouses.

Later, in the 1960s, Canadian grocers met and made the standard pallet size 48”x40” which became known as the GPMC pallet. Later on, in 1977, the Canadian Pallet Council was established to create standards and provide services.



Nowadays, the pallet designs from the post-war period are still being used. In addition to wooden pallets, pallets can now be made from plastic and aluminum. Even though materials such as plastics are lightweight, wooden pallets are still being used because of their distinct advantages. Unlike plastic pallets, wooden pallets can withstand a heavier load (up to 3000 lbs).

Another modern trend is to use pallets in different ways. Since millions of used pallets are available for sale, many people have started to reuse pallets in creative ways, like creating furniture out of them.



Pallets and fork-lift technology have come a long way since the late 1800s. In the past, manual methods were used to load goods for shipment. As demand increased, further advances in technology were required and changes in fork-lift design in parallel with pallet design have led to the current wooden pallet.