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Logistics

Can you name the 3 most important logistics breakthroughs?

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Here's a hint: Air cargo ranks as No. 4.

The ancient Greek and Roman armies employed officers called logistikas, who were responsible for getting food, weapons and other supplies to the troops. The 21st century definition of logistics is not much different: Get the right items to the right place at the right time.

For centuries, the definition of logistics hasn't changed much: Get the right items to the right place at the right time.

But across the intervening centuries, some innovations stand out as breakthroughs in logistics. You could argue in favor of bar coding (1952) or Ford's mass production of the Model T (1913). But we think the three most important logistics world-changers were:

1. The Iron Horse. Trains, planes and motor vehicles of all kinds would not have been possible without development of the steam engine, perfected in the late 1700s by James Watt. It was the steam engine, specifically the steam locomotive, that fueled the Industrial Revolution, the spread of mass transportation and the urbanization of America. Nearly every small town in America had both a passenger and freight station, often with a "team track" where freight was offloaded to horse-drawn wagons. By 1890, railroads hauled half a billion passengers and 690 million tons of cargo.

2. The interstate highway system. Championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and launched in 1956, expressways now cover just over 47,000 miles and touch nearly everyone in the country. "... [T]he Interstate System is a linear economy-on-wheels," Peter T. Kilborn wrote in The New York Times in 2001. "A distinct and self-sustaining 51st state, in a sense, that generates life and commerce." It's hard to imagine logistics without it.

3. Eighteen-wheelers. The advent of interstate highways gave rise to another logistics breakthrough: semitrailer trucks, also known as "big rigs" or 18-wheelers, which haul freight across country, from loading dock to loading dock. And where would global logistics be today without the containerized intermodal freight transport system that evolved as an innovative way to "piggyback" freight via ship or truck?

Want to add a logistics innovation to this list? We'd love to hear from you. Just comment below so we can continue the conversation.

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Sherwood Koehn
without refrigeration and air conditioning we would still be in the Stone Age.
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Johnny Republican
And guess how that interstate was funded? With high taxes on the upper classes, which in turn made the rich richer. Something we don't recognize today as we refuse to invest one dime in rebuilding the US' infrastructure. This isn't an outrageous idea. It's actually rather simple, lets pay more to make a lot more. Spread the burden, spread the wealth all the while becoming richer. How is that bad for America?!
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Noel Camberos
i agree with your opinion on the innovation and their contribution to the world of logistics. It is my opinion that one could break down your theory to even more "modern" contributions or even categorize innovations to more technical groupings. I believe the 21st century has even more advanced contributors: the telephone, the computer system and the forklift/forktruck.
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Ian
Two things have made a tremendous impact on every activity, and those are computers and the internet. Think of what life may be like without technology.
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David
I would say drones and self driving vehicles are the next big innovation. Robotics is coming on strong, maybe too strong.
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Kurt Brinson
Semi's important but only with modern highway system. Instead; jet cargo planes for shear size and speed getting in short time frame; time is also logistics issue.
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Lionel Alexandre
What about "Morse Code" The basic of “ Long Distance & Modern Communication today".
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Alan
What about Airplanes? For a business with it's own planes, this seems a major oversight. Especially in a the context of timely deliveries, although we do play too much to our impatience. Not necessarily our needs. I don't argue the importance of the other three. I'm a major train fan. But, I would argue that we've become overdependent on the trucks and highways and have thereby negated a significant amount of advantage to be gained with more trains. Compared to trains, trucks are terribly inefficient, but they have a major role to play. I can't speak to the planes, having not studied them specifically. Both planes and trucks have their place in timely deliveries.
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Allen Smith
Refrigirated tractor trailer trucks
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