About 12,000 years ago, humanity began the change from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural-based society. An article in Science Daily in October 2009 describes research that found evidence from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Age (11,500 to 10,550 BCE) in Jordan, near the Dead Sea of plant storage. They were for winter consumption and against years of famine.  They were the first warehouses.

From the massive Rome warehouse of the Second Century BCE along the Tiber River (Horrea Galbae)  to the 19th Century port warehouses of Europe (19th Century London Canary Warf warehouses tended to be located near oceans or rivers. Cargo was loaded and unloaded by human labor, along with cranes, which are believed to have originated for lifting stone in the 6th century BCE in Greece. During an extended period, horses and oxen-drawn wagons moved goods on land, mainly in Europe and North America. Water buffalo were in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Asia. Elephants were believed to haul cut trees in the regions where they existed.

The railroad changed everything.  Suddenly, moving large loads was easier. New cities sprung along their routes in North America. Warehouses appeared nearby.  The engine-powered truck and improved roads made warehouses more ubiquitous,. The interstate highway allowed for larger trucks and longer delivery distances.  Warehouses became the backbone of the US logistics system for local storage of manufactured goods to be distributed to the retail market. The appearance of the powered forklift truck was also crucial.


By the 1960s, real estate developers all over the coutnry were buying up open land in the far suburbs for speculative buildings suitable for warehousing and small manufacturing operations.  I had personal experience in this during the years I was a project manager at  A. Epstein and Sons, Inc., a Chicago architecture and engineering firm.  We had a long-term industrial property client who had suburban property. Each year they would build a few warehouses to be leased or sold. Here is an aerial view of the CMD Itasca Industrial park, now owned by ProLogis from Google Earth []

In 1960, the US Congress created the Real Estate Investment Trust company, which invests in commercial real estate portfolios, thereby allowing individual investors an income stream from commercial real estate. Previously, this was only available to high-wealth investors. The property categories include offices, hotels, retail, multifamily, self-storage, data centers and industrial. The industrial properties are almost all warehouses. The largest industrial REIT is Prologis, with a market capitalization of $47 Billion.  The following two are $10 and $4 billion.


CNBC claimed in 2018 that the world’s first non-human warehouse is run only by robots and is a model for the future. They were wrong by about 40 years. Long before e-commerce fulfillment centers, computer-controlled cranes moved 4’ x 4’ x 66” high stacks of goods automatically.  In the late 1970s, Kodak built a high-rise, rack-supported, computer-operated crane-based storage facility at Kodak Park,  Rochester, NY. This facility was not groundbreaking. The technology was developed earlier in the decade. My company, Epstein, designed the facility,  and I was the project manager. [

Northrup Grumman also built one in Pico Rivera, California, for their B-2 bomber, which we unsuccessfully bid.  The Carnation Ice Cream company built one as part of their ice cream plant in Bakersfield, California, which Epstein designed in the mid-1980s..

The Kodak facility was designed as two sections at the advice of Kodaks insurance consultants, Factory Mutual.  They recommended not putting the  stored, flammable product “in one basket.” The structure was “rack supported.” The storage racks were designed to support the exterior metal siding and the code-required roof load. A third-party design-build company provided them for this project. Epstein designed the foundations. Here is one under construction.

The facility is about ninety feet high. It stores about 50,000 pallet loads. Eight floor-mounted cranes, four in each wing, move pallets of parts in and out of the racks. Floor embed wires guide pallet movers to the fabrication facility in a separate building, shown to the left in the photo.

Epstein is a full-service architecture and engineering company, providing all design and construction documents for a project.t It also provides material handling and process engineering for manufacturing facilities. The material handling group designed the cranes and floor pallet mover system for this project. All of the company’s disciples are under one root


I always like to reference my definitions. The shipping and logistic blog ShipLilly explains the following.  Distribution centers do not ship to customers. They receive a product from the producer to change the transportation mode, from rail to truck. National retail and regional supermarket chains often built several large warehouses on one site to serve a multi-state area. These are Distribution Centers. This image is the Albertsons Grocery Company site in Brea, California, which services the Western United States and the Sears Roebuck facility in Chicago.

The term “ fulfillment center” was coined in the1990s to identify the third-party logistics step from storage to the final customer.

“Smart” Warehouses centers have been around for a while, but “Smart” Fulfillment Centers are more recent and evolved along with the Internet as we know it today.  Look for this is Part 2