When Did Reusable Pallet Pooling Begin?

Early pallet pools emerged in the 1940s and became the beginning of a much larger logistics trend.

The pooling of reusable packaging and pallets is an important component of today’s supply chain efficiency and sustainability efforts. While pooling is often embraced as a recent trend that has become increasingly popular over the last decade or two, the roots of this practice go back at least to World War II. That being said, best in class pools of today bear little resemblance to those early efforts in pooling.

World War 2 and Pallet Pooling

Bill Sardo

Bill Sardo

The U.S. military began widespread use of pallets during World War 2. As the War progressed, leaders came to recognize the material handling efficiencies that could be gained through standardizing pallet sizes, both in terms of warehousing operations, as well as in being able to more readily reuse pallets. The Quartermaster Corps, which was a  large user of pallets, eventually chose to standardize around a 32 x 40-inch footprint wood pallet, with a few other acceptable sizes, including 34 x 48-inch and 48 x 60-inch. Pallet boxes, which allowed the stacking of more easily crushed or irregularly shaped items, were also pooled for reuse.

Throughout the course of the War, the span of palletized handling increased from in-house use, to the introduction of shipping empty pallets to suppliers to palletize for delivery back to the military, and eventually, the palletization of merchandise for shipment to the Pacific Theatre of War.

Pooling Continues to Take Hold after the War

Pallet pooling continued to become established beyond 1945 and the conclusion of hostilities. The most famous of these efforts was to take place in the major ports of Australia, where the Australian government acquired abandoned U.S. material handling equipment, including pallets. It created the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, or CHEP. In the 1950s, these services were sold to various port authorities. In 1958, Brambles purchased the assets from a number of ports, becoming the beginning of what today is a global brand in the form of CHEP.

The end of the War also saw the emergence of pallet pools elsewhere. Sweden saw a pallet pool established by 1947. In the early 1950s, the French railway ordered wood pallets from a Swedish manufacturer, and after a successful test, they quickly became accepted, with pallet usage soon expanding to the railway systems in other European countries. The pallet was adopted as the de facto standard for the Union Internationale Chemins de Fer, and the Europallet pool was launched in 1961.

In the U.S. as well there was significant interest in pooling. At the end of the Second World War, it was anticipated that there would be somewhere between 1 and 3 million surplus pallets available to the private sector. Writer and consultant D.W. Potts suggested that the public warehousing industry was ideally suited for the management of such pallet pools, possibly on a local or regional basis. Even in 1946, however, at least one U.S. operation, the Lawrence Warehousing Company of San Francisco, California, had aspirations of launching a national pallet pool.

The benefits of pallet pooling continued to be enthusiastically promoted both domestically as well as internationally by Bill Sardo, who in 1947 became the trade promotion manager and executive secretary of the wood product section of the National Wooden Box Association, a role he maintained carried on with the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, when it became independent in 1954. Bill told me one time that the concept of pooling was easier to sell abroad at that time than in the U.S., with Sardo traveling to pallet meetings in Europe, Canada, and Australia.


Read other articles in the Breakthroughs in Material Handling series.