How Forklifts Shaped Modern Industry

How Forklifts Shaped Modern Industry

In the wide world of industry, it is difficult to think of a single piece of machinery that has made a greater change to how people do business than the forklift, and nearly every business from small specialists to multinational corporations relies heavily on forklift hire to function.

Exactly how we came to this point was less the result of somewhat gradual development but more the radical transformation of society called by a series of major world events causing consequential changes to how industries do business. 

Here is how the forklift helped to shape modern industry as we know it.


Convergence Of Ideas


The development of the forklift truck was the amalgamation of several different technologies coming together to make a single all-purpose work vehicle.

These include the development of mechanical hoists in the late 19th century, as well as platform trucks in the early 20th century, which would quickly be fitted with traction batteries and electric motors to make them easier for operators to use.

Arguably the first lift truck was the Baker Rauch & Lang Company power-lifting crane, which was used to lift and transport artillery shells in 1915 during the First World War.

This idea was advanced with Clark’s Tructractor in 1917, which was initially designed to transport goods in one of the company’s plants but the potential was so clear after visitors requested their own machines that Clark started selling them to others.

By 1923, Yale had produced the first forklift truck as we know it, with forks that lifted up, an electric motor and an elevated mast.

However, despite the clear potential of the technology already seen by many manufacturers, it would take two more developments to solidify the new normal.

One was a system of standardisation, the other was one of the most disruptive events in history.


The Home Front


The modern pallet is fundamental to the success of the forklift, with patents for it filed as early as 1924. However, in 1938, a pallet design designed to complement newer hydraulic lift trucks helped to create a fundamental standard that would have transformed industry immediately. 

That is, except for what happened in 1939.

After the declaration of the Second World War, millions of people, including huge parts of the labour force, were shipped off to war, and many industries were tasked with building materials vital to the war effort.

To maintain the same level of productivity, businesses needed to work smarter, and so forklifts were more widely used to transport goods and supplies onto trucks, wagons and ships, much in the same way that early prototype forklifts had been used during the First World War.

This meant that by the end of the war in 1945, forklifts had gone from a specialist piece of equipment used in specific roles for brief periods of time before needing to be recharged to becoming the backbone of industries, and by the 1950s would end up transforming industry itself.

Warehouses needed to store more goods and be more efficient, with the only direction for expansion being vertical. As a result, narrow aisle forklifts were developed that were highly manoeuvrable, reduced the space between inventory and could be stacked much higher, leading to more efficient uses of space that continues to this day.