Friday 1st July 2022 | View all Blogs

Ahh, the humble pallet. We take them for granted, but do you actually know the history behind these wonderful wooden structures? 

A brief history

The pallet as we know it today has been around for roughly a century. That's right, an entire century of stacking, wrapping and packing… and we could never imagine logistics without them.

However, did you know that the pallet wasn't the first of its kind? It does, in fact, have a precursor: the skid.

Nowadays, a skid and a pallet are often used interchangeably, but before the birth of the pallet, skids were flat, wooden structures (like pallets), but there was no bottom layer, so they stood on three wooden beams, just like this:

Believe it or not, skids actually date back to Ancient Egyptian times! 

But, the pallet we know and love today was invented by George Raymond and patented in 1925 by Howard T. Hallowell, but we'll get onto that later.

Fun fact: the original name for pallet was a "lift truck platform"
What are pallets used for?

Put simply, pallets are used for transporting bulk goods from A to B.

Imagine walking into a large warehouse or industrial estate. You'll likely see a few pallets scattered around. They might look a bit useless, or even a bit of an eyesore! But they actually form a massive part of logistics. 

stack of pallets

A pallet is a flat wooden structure, usually made of multiple wooden beams to create a strong platform to carry goods.

They might not seem it, but they're pretty strong. Did you know that a standard wooden pallet can withstand around 2 tonnes of weight? To put that into perspective, that’s strong enough to hold the weight of 20 baby elephants!

You can put a whole lot on a pallet, including engines, gearboxes, flat-packed furniture and even small vehicles, just to name a few. 

How are pallets made?

Most wooden pallets are made from the centre of a tree. Oak is the most common type of wood for pallets as it's very strong and is one of the easiest to obtain, thanks to the abundance of oak trees.

The procedure to make a pallet is pretty much how you'd expect - a bunch of wooden planks are nailed together to form a structure. 

Not every pallet is made from wood, though. Plastic pallets are a fairly new addition to the collection and are made from either polypropylene or polyethylene that is moulded into the shape of a regular wooden pallet.

plastic pallets

When were pallets first used?

We've already briefly mentioned about the long history of the skid, but what about the pallet? 

Well, a pallet was made specifically for a forklift, but they became extremely popular during the World Wars due to the vast amount of materials and weaponry that had to be transported. Pallets were the perfect size and shape for this!

Then, the standard pallet size was born. 48x48 inches was believed to be the perfect fit to load onto railway box cars. But today, the official standard size is a little smaller, measuring 48x40 inches, or 1.2x1.0 metres.

Why is it called a pallet?

While a palate, pallette and pallet may get your tongue in a twist, all three are completely different things. A palate is another word for the roof of your mouth, while a palette is a wooden board that artists use to hold and mix their paint. 

But why is a wooden platform for transporting goods called a pallet?

Well, the etymology of the word isn't exactly clear, but there may actually be a link between the pallet and the French word "palette", but sadly, there is no definite answer.

How many types of pallets are there?

There is, in fact, more than one type of pallet. They may seem like a bunch of wood nailed together, but they can come in many types depending on the purpose.

wooden pallets

Here are the five main types of pallets you may come across: 

  • Block pallets - these are the type most people think of when they picture a pallet: a hollow structure with access on all four sides for forks. 
  • Stringer pallets - stringer pallets are very similar to block pallets, but instead, there are only two sides for access. This type is stronger than a block pallet due to the two "stringers" on each end that add extra support.
  • Double-faced pallets - double-faced pallets consist of two "decks" on the top and bottom of the pallet. These can be used for heavier items as they help distribute the weight of the load across the whole pallet.
  • Winged pallets - a pallet with wings? Unfortunately, not! Winged pallets are similar to block and stringer pallets but have protruding pieces of wood. This may help in weight distribution as there is more surface area to place your goods on. Generally, this type of pallet isn't recommended as it may interfere with forklifts and other machinery. 
  • Solid deck pallets - these are pretty much self-explanatory. Solid deck pallets are made up of solid planks of wood that lay on top, so there are no spaces. This type of pallet may be used if you wish to send narrower items that may fall through the spaces of a regular pallet.

Wow... that’s a lot of pallet types! Which one will you choose? 

What came first, the pallet or the forklift?

Considering the original "skid" was altered and turned into a pallet to be used with forklifts, it's safe to say the forklift came first, all the way back in 1917!

The gaps around a pallet are designed to accommodate forklift forks so that they can safely and securely be moved around.

The skid was not designed for a forklift, as they were not invented at the time. Some types of pallets may limit forklift access, such as stringer pallets.

For example, if you're shipping to an Amazon fulfilment centre using PalletOnline, you need to make sure not to use a stringer pallet, as all four sides need to be accessible! 

When was the pallet jack invented?

Hold up... if a pallet was designed to be moved by a forklift, what is a pallet jack used for?

Well, a pallet jack, invented in 1887, was first made to lift a skid, not a pallet.

Due to a skid being a more permanent platform for storage rather than transport, pallet jacks weren't originally designed to move a skid from one place to another. They were designed to  only lift it a few inches from the ground.

orange pallet jack

With the invention of forklifts and pallets, the "pallet jack" now had a better use.

Modern-day pallet jacks are either electrically powered to aid in heavy movement or manually lifted by pumping the handle.

Nowadays, a pallet jack is used to transport pallets from one place to another, usually only by a short distance, though.

They can be useful when loading goods onto a trailer, as they are a lot more compact than a forklift and can easily fit on the back of a tail-lift fixture.

Well, there you have it! Did you know about the history of a pallet? Or have you learned a few things? 

A life without pallets would certainly be dull, dark and dreary, so why not put them to good use? PalletOnline will offer you 10% OFF your first booking!

Questions & Answers

Pallets serve the sole purpose of transporting goods. They gained prominence with the rise of forklifts, providing businesses an efficient way to move items. Before pallets, skids were popular but gave way to pallets due to their superior transport capabilities, cost-effectiveness, and higher load-bearing capacity. Today, pallets are the go-to choice for countless manufacturers, retailers, and individuals worldwide.

In short, lift trucks and forklifts revolutionized material handling by enabling efficient transport within wooden structures for bulk goods. This led to the invention of pallets, giving rise to pallet delivery companies and a competitive market. Forklifts expanded the use of pallets for loading, moving, and stacking goods. Wooden pallets remain the choice for pallet couriers due to their durability and weight-bearing capacity.

Pallets have seen a remarkable transformation from their early 'skid' form to the current wooden and plastic variations. The shift towards plastic pallets can be attributed to their easy cleanability, making them a top choice for shipping food products while wooden pallets continue to dominate the global pallet courier market due to their cost-effectiveness and wide usability.

Pallets are the unsung heroes for businesses relying on couriers to distribute goods. They allow you to easily ship items together, ensuring they arrive in pristine condition and on time. Without pallets, you'd be sending loose cartons, risking lost or damaged items and unpredictable delivery times. Pallets streamline tracking and offer peace of mind. They've made transporting goods more cost-effective, and businesses in the UK and Europe seek affordable pallet delivery services to ensure their goods stay intact during transit.