The Lowly Wooden Pallet is the Workhorse of Modern Civilization

No one ever thinks about the lowly wooden pallet. You see them scattered everywhere, and you have a vague idea that they’re used in big-box stores and warehouses. But did you realize that life (as we know it) could not exist without the humble wooden pallet?

Don’t laugh. Just about everything in your home, from appliances and furniture to the nuts and bolts in your toolbox, were handled, warehoused and shipped using wooden pallets and forklifts. If we woke up tomorrow and there were no more pallets, all commerce would come to a screeching halt.

Does the Work of a Hundred Men

Look at this way: in 1935 it would take three days to unload a railroad boxcar filled with 13,000 cases of canned tuna. After the advent of the the modern pallet a decade later, that same boxcar could be unloaded in under four hours using the same manpower. The wooden pallet is such an ingeniously simple idea that it hasn’t needed any improvements or upgrades in over 75 years. A 1940 wood pallet is exactly the same as a 2016 model.

So, what exactly is a pallet? It’s a low platform made of wooden slats with about 8″ of space on the bottom to accommodate the prongs of a forklift. Today’s forklifts can raise the pallets to the sky to stack warehouses high and deep. While most are wooden, some pallets are manufactured out of recycled materials or plastic.

In case you were wondering what happens to pallets after the merchandise has been unpacked, the delivery person usually delivers the full pallets and picks up the “empties” at the same time. However, just as often, wooden pallets are abandoned or broken down. Since the 1940s, Americans have discarded tens of millions of used wooden pallets, and there are approximately that number of articles on the internet outlining the ways to re-use and recycle pallets.

All Hail the Pallet

We tend to take wooden pallets for granted, but we should elevate them to the lofty status they deserve. We should put them on our currency, our postage stamps and our flags. Give the pallet the credit it deserves for keeping our society well stocked, because pallets will soon disappear.

Pallets are used primarily to store and ship hard goods, merchandise which can be manufactured in your home using a 3-D printer. In the not-too-distant future, the wooden pallet will be just a memory. Show your pallet some love today.