Who Invented the Pallet?
Bob Trebilcock of Modern Materials Handling Magazine says that the pallet was invented by George Raymond, along with Bill House. Bob did an excellent pallet lore interview recently with Steve Raymond, grandson of George, the originator of the namesake company that manufactures all of those red-colored lift trucks and pallet jacks. The interview touches on the evolution of the pallet. The first prototypes were sleds. They had no center supports and were lifted by a single lift platform. Later came the addition of a center stringer and a bottom face or deck, in conjunction with the use of forks to lift and transport the load. The pallet had arrived.
When Was the Pallet Invented?
As I recall, the Raymond and House pallet patent did not accurately signal the invention of the pallet, for that had come earlier in the 1930s with the addition of the bottom deck to the skid, which had already been in use for a few decades at least. There were stringer pallet patents from a similar time period, such as that by Clark. An earlier Raymond patent from the late 1920s had to do with the development of a load platform, which was a timber platform with metal legs on the sides. When I did some research on the history of the pallet several years ago, the pallet was referenced in trade publications as early as 1930.
The Raymond and House accomplishment was none-the-less worthy. It allowed for the construction of a pallet out of inexpensive lumber rather than employing metal legs or stringers, and facilitated functionality not only with forklifts but with a gapped spacing of bottom deck boards to also allow utilization by pallet trucks, which needed wheel openings in the pallet bottom deck. Previously, pallet trucks were used with single-faced pallets (skids) only, and would not work with full double face pallets.
As to Bob’s speculation as to why the move from a single lift platform on lift trucks to the use of forks, in conjunction with the introduction with the middle stringer, I would suggest that it was done to reduce the span of the pallet deck. It was an important design improvement that allowed much thinner deck boards to be used without severe deflection. Just as software such as PDS still does today, it was a move to maximize performance with the lowest cost pallet. It sometimes makes sense financially to invest in some equipment (i.e., fork attachments) to reduce the cost of a great many more pallets.
When it comes to the installation of roller conveyors and other equipment today, this design challenge still surfaces – is it worth the investment in closer roller spacing, for example, to save money on possible millions of pallets over time?
The history of the pallet and the history of the forklift are entwined, but it is very much a shop floor history, mostly already lost except for artifacts such as patents and trade publications accounts – and the occasional oral account such as the one captured by Mr. Trebilcock.
To read Bob’s interview, click here.
This article was updated in May 2016.