The origins of international trade can be traced back to around 4,000 years ago, with early documents recording a colony of Assyrian merchants trading in what is modern-day Turkey.
The demand for spice and silk from China began in the 2nd Century BC. It created what became known as the Silk Road, a 4,000-mile trade route stretching from Java to Western Europe that enabled many different cultures to interact and do business.
Manned flight also had a major impact on the speed and reliability of delivery services. As the US population expanded, the demand for goods and document shipping increased. The traditional point-to-point postal model was succeeded by more efficient 'Hub-and-Spoke' operations - first pioneered by Delta Airlines for transporting passengers across the U.S.
The ‘Express’ Delivery industry really began life in the US around 1852 with the formation of Wells, Fargo & Co Express. Relying largely on rail services, the company met the demands of the West Coast's rapidly increasing population. In 1860, the Pony Express was introduced, offering a more flexible 10-day transit time between east and west US for small packages and documents. Although short-lived, it redefined the customer's expectation of domestic delivery speeds. An early pioneer of express-type services in the US domestic market was United Parcel Services, founded by James E. Casey as the American Messenger Company in Seattle, Washington, in 1907. The company began its expansion, under the present name of UPS, within the US in 1919.
The birth of modern day international trade came during the last year of World War II, when leaders from all 44 Allied nations met at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Their aim was to rebuild the international economic system for the post war age - an age of ‘Globalization’.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, deals agreed at Bretton Woods helped develop international trade, boosting productivity around the world and raising living standards in Europe and Asia. 'Consumerism' became the fuel for global trade.
Dalsey, Hillblom and Lynn founded their international express business in 1969. One of the first regions they entered was the Pacific Rim and Far East targeting the emerging 'Tiger' economies; Hong Kong and Singapore with their financial centers, and South Korea and Taiwan's information technology manufacturing industries.
These were the cornerstones of DHL's rapid early growth. In 1971, Frederick W. Smith founded Federal Express with the aim of overcoming inefficiencies in the distribution system in the US and delivering packages within one or two days. The company began operations within the US in 1973. DHL, FedEx and UPS became known as integrators, companies offering delivery services through integrated air and ground transport networks.
In the late 70s, an important piece of US legislation, lobbied for by FedEx in particular, helped cement the integrators’ position in the express industry. The Airline Deregulation Act opened the (cargo bay) doors to new entrants, giving them price freedom, the ability to operate larger aircraft and greater access to profitable US routes, a revolution that would help drive efficiency and competition into the marketplace.
By 1978, DHL was transporting nearly 5.5 million shipments per annum for over 80,000 customers around the world. Further waves of internationalization came in the subsequent decades as globalization continued to grow and multinational companies emerged in industry sectors such as financial services, automotive and technology.
The Express industry continues to grow year-on-year and is currently valued at over €35bn. No longer simply a carrier for important business documents, Express is now seen as an integral part of the supply chain of the world's most advanced industries.
With technological advancements, the internet and limitless potential of travel, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are also realizing opportunities to expand their customer base internationally. The integrators are playing a key role in helping these SMEs to reach new markets without the need for extensive infrastructure or volume economies, and to establish themselves as players on the global stage.