Warehouses are used by companies to store large amounts of product inventory. Although a lot of warehouses today are run by automation (Amazon warehouses being a prime example of this), warehousing had a far humbler beginning. Inventory storage and warehousing have been around for thousands of years, with the first warehouses dating back to the early Roman Empire. Today warehouses are a crucial part of our economy.

Let’s look back in history to see how warehouses developed into what they are now.

The first type of public warehouse was the Roman Horreum. Originally constructed during the 2nd century BC, these buildings were used to store grain, olive oil, wine, food items, clothing and marble. The biggest of these was the Horrea Galbae, which contained 140 rooms on the first floor alone. In total the Galbae covered more than 225,000 square feet! To help you understand the Galbae’s size, less than half of warehouses in the U.S. are larger than 100,000 square feet.

Although these horrea (plural for horreum) were the first of their kind, they were undoubtedly ahead of their time. When Roman emperor Septimius Severus died in 211 AD, he left the Horrea Galbae stocked with enough food to feed all 1 million citizens of Rome for 7 years! Additionally, ancient Roman horrea were built with ramps instead of stairs, which made transporting goods in and out of the buildings a breeze. Horrea were built with thick walls to reduce the chances of fire, and high windows to reduce the chance of theft. These ancient warehouses were often located close to major shipping ports which streamlined the process of importing and exporting goods. The Ancient Romans really thought of it all!

The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries brought new advancements to warehouses which made them more specialized. The dramatic and sudden increase in globalization during this period caused warehouses to emphasize product movement. This emphasis brought forth some of the earliest large-scale supply chains.

Once the railway system began to take hold in the United States, more people began to travel and colonize previously barren areas. This development led to the creation of several “rail warehouses” that were conveniently located alongside railways. Rail warehouses and railways allowed companies to transport goods over land more efficiently than ever before.

The twentieth century brought warehousing to the next stage. Machine-operated factories were sprouting up everywhere and consumer goods were being produced at an astounding rate. Advancements in communication and transportation technologies increased globalization and urbanization, which led to warehouses being created all over the world.

This brings us to the current period. Here in the 21st century, we are currently witnessing the next major development in warehousing– automation. Whereas in the past when heavy boxes full of goods would have to be moved by humans, automated machines now handle most of the heavy lifting. These warehouses usually only require a few human operators to schedule tasks while the machines handle the rest. Products move on automated conveyors and are organized completely by automated machinery. Although most warehouses today are still operated predominantly by real people, the trend of warehousing automation is growing.