Explore 100+ years of UPS innovation and growth using our interactive timeline.
Creating a Messenger Service
At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States was about to embark on an era of transformation and innovation. America was focused inwardly on its growth, and the West was largely undeveloped. While Seattle, Washington, was fairly well-established, the city was still rife with opportunity, particularly for service-based businesses.
In 1907, two teenage entrepreneurs created what would become the world's largest package delivery service. Starting in a Seattle basement with a $100 loan, Claude Ryan and Jim Casey opened the American Messenger Company. With telephones and automobiles scarce, the company fulfilled a range of tasks, from running errands and carrying notes on foot or on bicycle, to making home deliveries for drugstore customers. Their fledgling business entered a competitive marketplace, facing numerous firms that also specialized in message and parcel delivery.
Already experienced in business when he began the company, Jim hired other teens as messengers, and his younger brother George joined the firm's leadership ranks. Operating under the principle of providing the best service at the lowest rates, the company prospered. Jim's steadfast commitment to reliability, courtesy, neatness, and high ethical standards helped establish the values that continue to guide UPS today.
A merger with Evert McCabe's competing package delivery business helped the company redefine its primary charge. With enhancements to telephones reducing dependency on messenger companies, in 1913 the American Messenger Company shifted its focus to delivering packages from grocery and drug stores to customers' homes. The company's name changed to Merchants Parcel Delivery, highlighting its new mission.
After adding Evert's motorcycles and a Ford Model T to its transportation reserve, the company began to consolidate its deliveries so that all packages for a specific neighborhood would be loaded onto the same vehicle, maximizing use of resources while keeping expenses low.
The business grew quickly, thanks to the company's dedication to its customers. Jim Casey and his colleagues became experts in fulfilling the needs of the drug and grocery stores. In most cases, the company's employees worked onsite at the stores to ease distribution efforts.
The final founding member of the company, Charlie Soderstrom, joined the firm in 1916. With his expert knowledge of automobiles, he helped manage the company's rapidly expanding fleet of delivery vehicles.The young company's visionary leaders saw a new opportunity to promote their business, and ultimately persuaded retailers to outsource delivery services to their company. The executives had to create an element of trust and credibility for the retail stores to agree, and those businesses had to overcome faith in their own systems in order to cede to a third party. In 1918, three of Seattle's leading department stores became customers, abandoning their own internal delivery efforts, and turning over business to Merchants Parcel Delivery.
Entering the Common Carrier Era
In 1919, the company made its first expansion beyond Seattle to Oakland, California, where the name United Parcel Service debuted. "United" reflected the company's consolidated shipments, while "Parcel" indicated the kinds of deliveries the company made, and "Service," noted Charlie Soderstrom, "is all we have to offer." During the same year, Charlie was credited with the idea of painting all the company's cars brown, chosen for its stately appearance.
In addition to changing its name, United Parcel Service continued to develop new approaches to its operations. In 1922, the company acquired a business in Los Angeles that offered "wholesale delivery" service, shipping products from the manufacturer to the distributor. This section of the company quickly began providing its product transportation services to the public, in the same way that the U.S. Postal Service did. This was known as common carrier service. The acquisition of common carrier rights enabled the company to deliver packages to private and commercial customer addresses. This step placed UPS in direct competition with the USPS. The offerings included daily pickups, cash-on-delivery payment acceptance, automatic return of undeliverable packages, and weekly billing, all at rates competitive with the post office. Common carrier services began slowly at UPS, spreading first throughout southern California.
The 1920s marked a period of technological and service innovation. A major new development occurred in 1924, when the company introduced an innovative conveyor belt system used for package handling. Then in 1929, UPS began to offer air service through private airlines. The economic downturn in the U.S., along with a lack of volume, led to the end of the service two years later.Geographic expansion emerged as a bold new opportunity for the company. Through the end of the 1920's, UPS expanded its retail delivery service to encompass all major cities along the coastline of the Pacific U.S., including San Francisco, San Diego and Portland, Oregon. In spite of the economic conditions after the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, UPS expanded eastward the following year, opening operations and moving its headquarters to New York City.
Expansion and Transformations
UPS grew throughout the 1930s and early 1940s by acquiring delivery responsibilities for department stores in Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia. Fuel and rubber shortages during World War II, combined with rationing of most retail goods, led stores to limit delivery services and encouraged customers to carry their packages home themselves.
After the war ended, America witnessed the development of the suburbs, and new consumer trends emerged. More Americans were buying cars and shopping at suburban malls with large parking lots. UPS recognized that its role in home delivery services for department stores was limited, and its management pursued new growth opportunities.
UPS management sought to expand its breadth of services. In 1953 UPS began common carrier operations by providing package transportation services to the public in cities where the company did not require authorization by the state commerce commissioner or the Interstate Commerce Commission to do so. During the same year, Chicago became the first city outside of California in which UPS offered common carrier service. Amid the determined pursuit of common carrier service deregulation, the company reintroduced air service, offering two-day delivery to major East and West Coast cities in 1953. As with the previous effort, UPS shipments flew on regular commercial flights.
The expansion effort was fraught with challenges. Strict state and federal regulations limited access and entry to major markets. In some instances, shippers were required to transfer a package between several carriers before it reached its final destination. UPS faced unprecedented legal battles to obtain the proper certification to operate over areas wide enough to satisfy growing public demand for its unique services. Over the course of 30 years, UPS pursued more than 100 applications for additional operating authority. By winning these challenges, UPS effectively laid the groundwork for other delivery companies to compete in the marketplace. In 1975, UPS became the first package delivery company to serve every address in the 48 continental United States. This momentous convergence of service areas became known within UPS as the "Golden Link".
International Growth and UPS Airlines
UPS increased its reach in the mid-1970s by growing internationally and at home. In 1975, the corporate headquarters moved from New York City to Greenwich, Connecticut. That same year, UPS went abroad for the first time when it began offering services in Toronto, Canada. The following year saw the start of operations in Germany. Over the next decade, UPS expanded its service throughout the Americas and Europe. After purchasing IML, a British document and parcel delivery company, in 1989, UPS extended service to the Middle East, Africa, and the Pacific Rim.
The need for air shipment increased in the 1980s, and UPS focused on expanding its presence in the skies. Deregulation of the airline industry allowed new opportunities for UPS, as some established commercial carriers reduced flights and even abandoned some routes completely. In order to ensure the company's reputation for dependability, UPS took steps toward creating its own fleet of airplanes.
With increasing public demand for quicker service, UPS entered the overnight air delivery business. By 1985, UPS Next Day Air service was available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. That same year, UPS introduced international air package and document service between the U.S. and six European nations. In 1988, UPS won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate its own aircraft, thus launching UPS Airlines. Organized in slightly more than one year with all the needed technology and support systems, UPS Airlines was the fastest airline start-up in FAA history. Today, it is one of the world's largest airlines.Currently, UPS runs an international package and document network in more than 220 countries and territories. With its worldwide services, UPS moves over 15 million packages through its network each business day.
The early 1990s marked the start of another era of change at UPS. With an eye toward improving cost efficiencies, in 1991 UPS announced plans to move its corporate headquarters to Atlanta. The construction effort emphasized aesthetic, environmental, and energy-efficiency initiatives to enhance the preserved natural terrain. An extensive tree protection and replacement program was also implemented during the construction. The company moved into its current home at 55 Glenlake Parkway in 1994.
E-commerce emerged as a potent force for changing the ways companies and consumers did business. Technology linked buyers and sellers in new ways that propelled globalization. Since the late 1990s, UPS has invested billions of dollars in technology development and infrastructure.
In 1993, UPS delivered 11.5 million packages and documents daily for more than one million regular customers. With such massive volume, UPS needed to develop new technology to maintain efficiency, keep prices competitive, and provide additional customer services. Operational technology at UPS spans a broad range, from small handheld devices, to specially designed package delivery vehicles, to global computer and communications systems. The company's online presence now extends beyond UPS.com. Popular shipping and tracking systems such as WorldShip, Quantum View, and CampusShip are Web-based tools that provide customers with efficient and leading edge technology driven tools to process, track, and manage shipments and supply chains.
The handheld Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD), carried by all UPS drivers, was developed to capture and upload delivery information to the UPS network. The DIAD even includes digital images of a recipient's signature, giving shippers quicker confirmation of final delivery. This proprietary device also allows drivers to stay in contact with their operational centers, staying abreast of changing pickup schedules, traffic patterns, and other important messages. Finding technological efficiencies have led to environmental benefits. Use of the DIAD eliminates the use of 59 million sheets of paper, equal to 5,187 trees per year.
In 1992, UPS began tracking all ground shipments electronically. In 1994, UPS.com debuted, and provided the perfect interface to make what was primarily internal operational information available for customer access. The following year, UPS added functionality to its Web site that enabled customers to track packages in transit. The resulting popularity of online shipment tracking surpassed all expectations. Today UPS.com receives 39.5 million online tracking requests daily.
Toward the end of the 1990s, UPS began another transition. While the core business continued to focus on package delivery, UPS expanded its vision to become an enabler of global commerce. The strategy that emerged was to drive growth through a new set of global services to meet the needs of customers seeking more efficient supply chains. Services added included transportation and distribution for larger shipments via road, rail, air, and ocean. Specialty services were developed for high-tech, automotive, and consumer goods industries, because they increasingly were sourcing globally. UPS began to acquire companies with supply chain management and target industry expertise. In 1998 the company also established UPS Capital, a financial services business unit, expediting the flow of funds and mitigating trade risk throughout the supply chain. In its beginning, UPS Capital offered COD enhancement services, and eventually purchased First International Bank, allowing commercial lending capabilities.While embracing new technological and strategic business developments, UPS also took a bold financial step for an established company. On November 10, 1999, UPS offered 10 percent of its stock to the public for the first time. This initial public offering gave UPS the ability to use a publicly traded security to make strategic acquisitions. Prior to this, UPS had been owned primarily by management employees, a practice established by Jim Casey in the 1920s when he gave staff the opportunity to purchase company shares.
Global Commerce and Evolution
Over time, UPS has become a leader in global supply chain management. At UPS, global distribution and logistics involves managing not only the movement of goods, but also the information and funds that move with those goods.
UPS customers repeatedly asked to tap into this expertise, which ultimately led to the development of a full-service business. UPS Supply Chain Solutions is a streamlined organization that provides logistics, global freight, financial, and mail services to enhance customers' business performance and improve their global supply chains.
In 2001, UPS ventured toward retail business by acquiring Mail Boxes Etc., Inc., the world's largest franchisor of retail shipping, postal and business service centers. Within two years, approximately 3,000 Mail Boxes Etc. locations in the United States re-branded as The UPS Store and began offering lower UPS-direct shipping rates. The stores remain locally owned and operated, and continue to offer the same variety of postal and business services, with the same convenience and world-class service. UPS continues to expand service worldwide. In Europe, Asia, and South America, customers enjoy an unmatched portfolio of time-definite and supply chain services.
Two major enhancements to international service came with the expansion of Worldport, the air hub in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as the European air hub in Cologne, Germany. With Asia identified as a primary growth target, in 2005 UPS launched the first non-stop delivery service between the U.S. and Guangzhou, China. That same year, UPS acquired the interest held by its joint venture business partner in China, giving it access to 23 cities that cover more than 80% of the country's international trade.
From using electric vehicles in New York City during the 1930s to developing water conservation techniques while keeping the familiar brown package cars clean, as well as operating the world's largest fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, UPS has long practiced environmentally-conscious innovations. Although sustainable practices are not new to UPS, the company recognized the need to formally document its focus on responsible business models. In 2003, UPS issued its first Corporate Sustainability report, highlighting the importance of balancing economic, social and environmental objectives. Now an annual report, it tracks the company's key performance indicators relevant to the business.
UPS continually gains wider access to various markets through acquisitions. The 1999 acquisition of Challenge Air made UPS the largest express and air cargo carrier in Latin America. Purchasing Menlo Worldwide Forwarding in 2004 added heavy air freight shipment capability, while the acquisition of Overnite in 2005 expanded the company's ground freight services in North America. Other recent acquisitions in the U.K. and Poland present new opportunities for growth in Europe.
Over the past 100 years, UPS has become an expert in transformation, growing from a small messenger company to a leading provider of air, ocean, ground, and electronic services. The most recent public change came in 2003, when the company introduced a new brand mark, representing a new, evolved UPS, and showing the world that its capabilities extend beyond small package delivery. The company went another step further, adopting the acronym UPS as its formal name, another indicator of its broad expanse of services. Ever true to its humble origins, the company maintains its reputation for integrity, reliability, employee ownership, and customer service. For UPS, the future promises even more accomplishments as the next chapter in the company's history is written.
The New Logistics
In September, 2010 UPS launched a new brand platform to promote the company's expanded logistics and supply chain management capabilities.
Since becoming a publicly traded company in 1999, UPS has significantly expanded the scope of its capabilities primarily through the acquisition of more than 40 companies, including industry leaders in trucking and air freight, retail shipping and business services, customs brokerage, finance and international trade services. As a result, UPS's relationship with many of its customers has deepened to include much more than basic transportation services.
The rise of e-commerce and increase in home deliveries created the need for consumers to gain more control over residential shipments deliveries prompting UPS My Choice. This revolutionary home delivery service enables busy consumers to control and manage their incoming package deliveries online and with their mobile devices. Millions of consumers take advantage of this service made possible in part through ORION technology.
ORION, On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation, reduces miles driven by optimizing driver routes resulting in significant operational impacts, extensive cost savings, positive environmental effects and raises the bar on efficiency and customer service U.S. deployment was completed in 2016 and has set the stage for even more personalized service offerings.
The fifth generation DIAD V, delivery information acquisition device is rolled out to speed package tracking detail between UPS and its customers. With more than 100,000 devices in use worldwide, the iconic handheld is the first device in the industry to switch on-the-fly between cellular carriers independent of cellular technology, making it more reliable than previous versions.
UPS acquired Brussels-based Kiala and launched UPS Access Point, a convenient alternative to home delivery, allowing busy UK consumers to purchase goods over the Internet and choose convenient delivery and returns locations such as convenience stores, petrol stations and newsagents.
In 2013 UPS advanced worldwide service through becoming the first global express delivery company to be wholly-owned in Vietnam. The change allows UPS to better connect Vietnam's rapidly expanding economy to world markets through the UPS network. UPS expanded into the healthcare market to better reach customers on a global scale with facility openings in China, Hungary, Australia, Italy and North America.
UPS completed the closing of the acquisition of Coyote Logistics in 2015. Coyote, a technology-driven, non-asset based truckload freight brokerage company adds large scale full-truck-load (FTL) and other transportation management services to the UPS portfolio.
For the first time in the company’s history, UPS offers Saturday ground delivery and Saturday pickup services, delivering shippers industry-leading Saturday choices. The time-in-transit improvement is one of the largest in the company’s history and will be fully implemented by the end of 2018.
UPS subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward Inc., received the U.S. government’s first full Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline in 2019. The company launched drone delivery service for hospital campuses and is exploring opportunities in other industries. UPS Flight Forward plans in the future to transport a variety of items for customers in many industries, and regularly fly drones beyond the operators’ visual line of sight.
Carol Tomé began her tenure as the 12th CEO of UPS on June 1, 2020, becoming the first female Chief Executive Officer in the company’s 113-year history.
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