Then & Now: The history of freight shipping.

October 16, 2018

To trade goods, you must have a way to move them. Freight shipping has always been a part of industry, but it has seen a lot of change since the days of the Silk Road. For one, you’re not likely accepting your delivery from a camel today. 

We've put together a timeline with some of the most critical events that have helped shape today's freight shipping processes. Let’s take a look:


The history of freight shipping timeline.

4000 BC - Horses become domesticated and utilized for transportation.

3200 BC - The first wheeled vehicle in history is created - wheels on carts.

770 - The advent of iron horseshoes makes transportation by horse more efficient. Horse drawn wagons become a popular mode of shipping, even though it was often slow and dangerous.

1787 - The first successful steamboat is invented. Steamboats become an alternative for effective freight shipping. Before steamboats, flatboats or rafts were used. This method proved risky and time-consuming, with the manpower needed to paddle.

1807 - A plan for roads and canals is put in motion by the Secretary of State. Canals provide low cost freight transportation.

1820s - Railroad systems peak and by the end of the century, have a monopoly on the freight industry.

1832 - Matthias Baldwin builds the first of the most famous early locomotives, Old Ironsides. Its construction was based on the standard English model of the day. With a train attached it reached 30 MPH, which was fast for its time. The Baldwin family continued to design trains for decades.

1863 - Construction of a railway to connect the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean started. This would ensure safer and faster travel. With this new railway, travel time was cut from six months to six days. It cost an estimated $50,000,000 to build.

1869 - The Transcontinental Railroad is completed. It brought the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad together. It is 3,500 miles long and extends from California through the Sierras and the Missouri River reaching Chicago. Business owners were relieved to use trains for their dependability and speed in comparison to horse drawn wagons.

1887 - Transportation companies are regulated in order to stop railroads from charging unfair freight rates and to protect companies from unfair competition. The Interstate Commerce Act required that railroad rates be "reasonable and just," but didn't give government authority to fix specific rates.

Early 1900s - Cars become popular in cities, but only the wealthy could afford them. At this time, cities began paving their roads.

1905 - C.H. Robinson is founded.

1935 - The Motor Carrier Act passes, regulating the trucking industry. This act set freight-hauling rate regulations, restricted the number of hours truckers drove and monitored trucking companies' range, as well as the type of freight they shipped. Road infrastructures advanced with driver demand.

1950 - About 173 billion ton-miles of commercial intercity freight is transported by truck.

1956 - Eisenhower passes the Interstate Highway System into law, creating a 41,000-mile National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. According to Eisenhower, it would safeguard against dangerous roads, inefficient routes and traffic jams that were barriers to "speedy, safe transcontinental travel." This enabled larger trucks to carry more freight on faster schedules.

1970 - Freight revenues rise. Trucking moves from carrying less than 1 percent of freight-ton miles to 25 percent, with 75 percent of revenue coming from high-value goods. Large companies were offering truckload service and other companies less than truckload service alongside a system of smaller regional and local carriers. A high-quality highway network made trucking the most reliable service available.

1980 - Commercial freight by truck reaches 555 billion ton-miles, growing with the interstate system. Federal restrictions loosen on trucking prices and routes.

1985 - Commercial truck freight increases to about 650 billion ton-miles.

Early 1990s - Trucking deregulates and the industry sees more independent owners and operators. Deregulation of the intrastate activity of interstate carriers eases the economic mandates initially placed over truckers operating within their borders.

1998 - Freightquote by C.H. Robinson is founded.

Early 2000s - Carriers witness financial gains after the U.S. economy entered a recession in 2001. A new set of driver hours of service rules goes into effect which cut driving time for truckers. The industry is now required to process electronic cargo manifests to Customs and Border Protection for trucks entering the US through all entry ports in Washington, Arizona and select ports in North Dakota.

2012 - Freightquote moves more than one million shipments in a year.


Freight shipping today and beyond.

Shipping methods have evolved through the years from wheeled carts to trucks. Today and throughout history, shippers have sought out the safest and fastest ways to transport goods from here to there.

The transportation of goods is always changing. As shippers embrace digital innovations, many are turning to the web for shipping solutions, and 3PLs provide shippers with enhanced capabilities to manage their logistics operations.

At Freightquote by C.H. Robinson, we provide shippers with competitive freight rates from hundreds of carriers to ensure the most efficient shipping solution. Our self-service tools keep our clients organized and informed about their shipments. The history of shipping is still emerging and we’re glad to be a part of it.


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