What was the first loading dock? If you wonder that out of curiosity or are looking for information about the history of transportation, it can be hard to find the answer. It’s easier to talk about the modern loading dock and how the system of safely loading and unloading goods came about with Kelley’s first counterbalanced dock leveler.
The First Loading Dock
It’s difficult to pinpoint the first loading dock in history. First you have to define what a loading dock is. One definition is “a platform for loading or unloading trucks or freight trains.” At Beuschel Sales we sell, install, and maintain loading dock equipment that is used by companies that are serviced primarily by trucks.
America has only relied on this type of shipping since the mid-20th century and the beginning of the U.S. highway system. Prior to this, trains transported most goods in America, and there were loading docks on train platforms designed to accommodate early motor vehicles and wagons.
In earlier days of shipping, trucks were not standard size, so a loading dock like the one shown above was raised above street level but not at a standard height. To move boxes or goods off of a truck or wagon, workers placed boards to create a temporary ramp, allowing them to walk up and down and in and out. In some cases, steel beams extended from a platform and planks would be placed on top of those. You can imagine how safe movable wooden planks would be to walk on under normal conditions or in the rain, sleet, or snow.
In the late 1930s a man named George Richmond invented and patented two products that would change shipping forever: the two-faced pallet and the hydraulic hand pallet lift truck which is known today as the forklift. By this time motor vehicles were becoming common and roads were being built or modified to accommodate them. Richmond designed these two products to be used together to more easily move goods. The two-faced pallet allowed for materials to be stacked and then transported, via forklift, quickly and uniformly. Once the world had the technology to quickly move products around, there needed to be something additional to make it simple to move them in and out of trucks. Enter the dock leveler.
In 1953 Gary Kelley invented the first counterbalanced dock leveler. It was a hinged steel ramp with a lip that greatly improved the connection between the warehouse loading dock and the truck flatbed by reducing the amount of effort it took to make it level. Kelley went on to create other firsts in the material handling industry, including the air-powered dock leveler, the non-impact vehicle restraint, and the automatic wheel chocking system, among others.
By the 1970s the loading dock looked very similar to how it looks today, but how dock levelers are activated and used is quite different now. There are also more products around the dock opening, including dock seals, warning lights, and trailer restraints. Nearly all of the change is safety driven, due the increased government regulation designed to protect workers.
At Beuschel Sales we are proud of our history providing quality loading dock equipment to businesses in Michigan. We will continue to bring our customers the latest product offerings from Kelley and APS Resource. Call us today to learn more about the high-quality, energy-efficient loading dock and warehouse solutions we offer.