Warehousing –What is it and where it all began?


Warehouses are used by companies to store their inventory, whether it’s food, hardware, building materials, everything can be stored in a warehouse. Although a lot of warehouses today are run by automation (take Amazon’s warehouses as an example), let’s not forget about its humble beginnings. Inventory storage and warehousing have been around for thousands of years, with the first warehouses dating back to the Roman Empire. Like then, the warehouses of today are a crucial part of the economy. Let’s take a look at how it all began

It all began with the creation of granaries to store food, which was stored in case of a drought or famine, and this food was available for purchase in the conditions of an emergency. As the European explorers began to discover new shipping and trade routes all over the world, the importance of warehouses grew, they were used to keep and store products and commodities that were brought from far away places. In early ages, man used to store excess food so it could keep it in case of emergencies, but as civilization developed, local warehouses were introduced.

The first type of public warehouse was the Roman Horreum. These were originally constructed during the 2nd century BC and were used to store grain, olive oil, wine, meat, clothing, and marble. The biggest of these warehouses was named Horrea  Galbae, which contained over 140 rooms on the first floor alone! In total, Horrea Galbae covered over 20.900 square meters– to understand it’s size, less than half the warehouses in the UK are larger than  9300 square meters. Although these early warehouses were the first of their kind, they were undoubtedly ahead of their time.

When Septimius Severus, the Roman emperor back then, died, he left the Horrea Galbae stacked with enough food to feed all 1 million citizens of Rome for 7 years. These ancient horreas were built with ramps instead of stairs, making the transportation of goods in and out of the building easier. These early buildings were built with thick walls to reduce the chances of fire and with high windows to reduce the chances of theft. These early warehouses were often located close to major shipping ports which streamlined the importing and exporting of goods.

During the Middle Ages improvement of human knowledge gave rise to warehousing to handle the storage of shipped goods –  the first known commercial warehouse was built in Venice, the center of all trade routes in Europe.

The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries brought new advancements to warehouses which made them even more specialized. The dramatic and sudden increase in production and globalization during this period caused warehouses to emphasize product movements. This emphasis brought forth some of the earliest large scale supply chains.

Once the railway system started expanding in the United States, more and more people began to travel and colonize previously barren areas. This development led to the creation of a new type of warehouses called “rail warehouses” that were conveniently located alongside railways. Rail warehouses and railways allowed companies to transport goods over land more efficiently than ever before.


By the end of World War I, hand trucks were used for material handling in warehouses and stacking was done by hand – meaning that stacking heights were low. During World War II, the forklift truck and wooden pallets were introduced. This meant that there was a drastic increase in stacking height – nearly a 300 percent increase due to the mass production of the forklift truck.

Warehousing systems have seen continuous growth over the centuries, they have been moving forward from local storehouses during the middle ages to multi-million-pound facilities.

Today, warehouses are usually large plain buildings used for commercial purposes, for storage of goods. Warehouses are most commonly used by exporters, followed by importers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and others. They are usually equipped with loading docks to load and unload trucks – they also have cranes and forklifts for moving goods and are using ISO standard pallets.Some modern warehouses are  , meaning that products are moved from one place to the other using conveyor belts and automated storage and retrieval machines which are run by programmed logic controllers equipped with logistics automation software. In an automated warehouse, the tracking of goods is coordinated by a warehouse management system – a database-driven computing program. Logistics personnel makes use of the warehouse management system to improve the efficiency of the warehouse by maintaining accurate inventory levels taking into consideration warehouse transactions.

Warehouses have gone through lots of steps to become what they are today, a vital part of the global economy. Warehousing technology has evolved with the needs of humanity in mind, as our production cap grew, warehouses had to evolve to keep pace.