Logistics has evolved considerably throughout history, becoming a key pillar of business today

Logistics history: origin and development

July 21, 2023

Logistics has played a crucial role in the development of humanity throughout history. From the origin of logistics — with the first efforts made to transport goods and supplies — to today’s most complex management and distribution systems, logistics has become a pillar of the business world.

Every stage in the history of logistics has been marked by technological advances and changes in transportation, storage, and management methods. The goal? To improve efficiency and the flow of goods and services.

Logistics history and background

The history of logistics dates back to the first human civilizations, when people recognized the need to supply and move goods for survival.

The Egyptian empire (3300 BCE to 332 BCE) developed transportation and storage techniques to maintain a steady supply of food and basic commodities. Later, the Roman Empire (27 BCE to 476 CE) established an extensive network of land (and maritime) routes — known as Roman roads — to facilitate the carriage of goods and troops across its vast territory. The Romans were also pioneers in using convoy ships for sea transport, establishing supply depots along their routes.

During this time, trade routes were established to connect Europe and Asia. This facilitated the exchange of knowledge and goods such as metals, fabrics, gemstones, and spices among different regions. One of the most famous trade routes, the Silk Road, became the main commercial connection between the East and the West for centuries.

Origin of logistics

The concept of logistics, particularly in military contexts, was familiar to the ancient Greeks and Romans when it came to moving goods and supplies. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz introduced what we now know as logistics to refer to activities related to the provisioning, transportation, and maintenance of troops.

In 1811, writer William Müller published The elements of the science of war. In the chapter “Logistics,” he revealed the strategies followed by our predecessors to transport and store weapons and food in times of war.

Another widely accepted theory links the word “logistics” to Swiss general Antoine-Henri Jomini, who first used it in its French form (logistique) in his military treatise Summary of the art of war (1838).

Historical development of logistics

Logistics has evolved significantly throughout history, adapting to changing societal needs and technological advancements.

  • Antiquity: the origin of logistics can be traced back to Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Rome. These ancient civilizations devised transportation and storage systems to supply armies, cities, and trade. They used carts, ships, and pack animals, establishing strategic routes and warehouses.
  • Middle Ages: during this period, guilds and trade routes played an essential part in the exchange of goods. Storage and distribution methods took shape in markets.
  • Industrial Revolution: the 18th century marked a turning point in logistics. The invention of machinery, railways, and steamships transformed transportation systems, enabling a faster and more efficient flow of goods.
  • 20th century: logistics became a more formal area of study and research. Mass production, globalization, and the adoption of technologies such as the telephone, radio, and later, the internet, transformed logistics management. Methods such as just-in-time and supply chain management were introduced.
  • Digital era: With the advancement of digital technology and the advent of the information age, logistics underwent radical changes. Warehouse and transportation management software, barcodes, RFID technology, and real-time traceability and tracking systems were developed.
  • Logistics 4.0: Modern logistics, i.e., Logistics 4.0, is based on digitalization, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and robotic process automation (RPA). Route optimization, the use of autonomous vehicles, and the implementation of automated warehouses are examples of this new technological era.
  • Logistics 5.0: following the emergence of Industry 5.0, a term coined by the European Commission, the logistics industry seeks to promote additional values vital to its future. These include human well-being, sustainability, and resilience. It also fosters the strengthening of resilience strategies to shore up the sector against sudden supply chain disruptions such as those resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Logistics 5.0 is the latest stage in the historical development of logistics
Logistics 5.0 is the latest stage in the historical development of logistics

Logistics: supplying us since the beginning of humankind

The history of logistics has come a long way from its origins to what it is today: the cornerstone of operations and supply chain management. Its progress has been driven by new technologies and society’s changing needs.

Understanding the history of logistics allows us to appreciate its significance and the impact it’s had on human progress. At Interlake Mecalux, we specialize in scaling up companies’ logistics processes through efficient storage and management systems. Get in touch. One of our experts will analyze your requirements to guide you in maximizing your logistics productivity.

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