June 23, 2021

The History of the Moving Industry

Today, moving is a multi-billion dollar industry with thousands of moving companies helping over 40 million Americans relocate each year. 

But how did it all begin?

Transportation technologies have evolved dramatically since the origination of the industry. The early settlers of the western frontier couldn’t possibly have predicted a vehicle that could cross the entire country within two days, much less a flying one that could accomplish the same feat in mere hours!

New technologies aside, the core mission of the moving industry remains the same – to efficiently and safely transport the belongings that make up a family or individual’s life from one home to the next.  

The First Pioneers

The first inklings of the moving industry began in the early 19th century with the covered wagon. In the age of Manifest Destiny, the covered wagon was the foremost means of transportation for settlers looking to venture into the American west. While the covered wagon looks a lot different than today’s moving trucks and vans, at that time it was the preeminent technology for transporting household goods, livestock, and family members from one location to another. 

There were two main types of covered wagon:

  • Conestoga wagon: named after the Conestoga River in Pennsylvania, and built for hauling heavy and cumbersome materials short distances
  • Prairie schooner: the preferred model of wagon for longer distances, a much smaller and lighter wagon that could be pulled by two horses rather than four

Beginnings of the Modern Moving Industry

On Christmas Day in 1830, the first passenger train in the United States was completed and the commercial railroad industry began:

With the boom of one transportation industry came the beginning of another – the modern moving industry. From 1830 to 1860, usage of railroads skyrocketed and soon trains became the dominant means of travel in the United States. Emerging companies relied on this newfound infrastructure to create profitable business in the form of the transportation of goods. The process was typically a two-pronged effort:

  1. Goods were transported by a local company to the train
  2. Goods were unloaded at the next station by a different local company and taken to the final destination

These small, local companies were known as wagon firms. Early on, the majority of the goods being transported was livestock. Only later did the process expand to include household goods and individual possessions. Goods were held in warehouses built alongside the railroad tracks – the term Storage In Transit (SIT) used in today’s moving industry began in these trackside warehouses.  

At the onset of World War I, the amount of paved roads in the United States increased dramatically in order to support the need for military production and transportation. The newly-invented motor vehicle had been introduced to the American market only a decade before the start of the war, and this technology in conjunction with the increase in roads opened up a world of opportunity for moving businesses.

 In 1919, Ward B. Hiner founded the company Red Ball Transit Company, which still exists today as American Red Ball. Hiner’s company became the first in the industry to specialize in the interstate moving of household goods. Hiner capitalized on the sharp decrease in demand for motor vans after the end of World War I by repurposing trucks from the US Motor Truck Company for commercial use. 

In 1923, Hiner hired engineer Charles Glaser for the purpose of engineering their own line of delivery vehicles, made out of a lighter metal than previous models. The brand was called Red Ball and the production took place in a plant in Indianapolis. Moving household goods by motor-van rather than by rail proved to be a much more cost-effective and straightforward method, as it cut out the middle-men local companies and warehouses and simply travelled from point A to point B. 

Many other companies followed Red Ball Transit Company’s lead and began specializing in interstate and long-haul deliveries using motor vans. The industry began to more closely resemble that of today. These early moving companies encountered some efficiency issues with these longer trips – mainly that they were often unable to find customer loads for the return journey. These “deadhead” trips decreased the overall profits and wasted the time of the driver as he/she attempted to search for a customer who happened to be looking for a delivery to that one specific place. 

By 1928, a group of moving companies came together to address this nuisance and try to find a solution. They formed the cooperative non-profit Allied Van Lines to help organize return loads and minimize deadheading. This alliance allowed companies to share information on jobs and organize trips jointly, maximizing profitability and cutting out wasted time. Allied Van Lines was reorganized in 1968 as a standard public company, and in 1999 it merged with North American Van Lines to become Allied Worldwide. In 2002, the company was renamed SIRVA and remains a successful business in today’s industry.  

Government Regulation

Between 1887 and 1980, the federal government passed many laws and regulations that shaped the moving industry of today:

1887: The federal government passes the Interstate Commerce Act to oversee the rising railroad industry. The government forms the Interstate Commerce Commision (ICC) to enforce the act and regulate the industry for years to come. The railroad industry becomes the first industry in our nation’s history to be subject to federal regulation. 

1935: The federal government passes Part II of the Interstate Commerce Act, known specifically as the Motor Carrier Act of 1935. The act requires all new moving companies to seek a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” from the ICC. Companies in existence before this act are grandfathered in, but it is very hard for new companies to obtain permission. The act also requires all companies to file their rates (also known as tariffs) a month before they become effective – the rates are then subject to inspection (and objection) from anyone, including competitors, before being enacted. While the goal of the act is to make the industry more uniform and rates more stable, it ends up stifling new companies and preventing competition. 

1948: Congress passes the Reed-Bulwinkle Act. The act exempts existing trucking companies from antitrust laws, allowing them to collude with each other to establish rates for transporting goods. The act is passed despite an attempted veto by then-President Harry Truman. The act intensifies the exclusion of new companies from the industry, and from 1935 to 1980, it is difficult if not impossible for new companies to get the correct certificates due to both the Motor Carrier Act and the Reed-Bulwinkle Act. 

1980: A new era of deregulation begins as President Reagan and Congress pass both the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 and the Household Goods Transportation Act of 1980. The acts effectively end the 45 year reign of rate control and allow new companies to enter the market. Young companies flood the market, changing the industry from one of a few hundred participants to over twenty thousand. In addition to creating healthy competition and breaking up the larger monopolies, deregulation leads to the creation of many important industry developments, such as binding estimates, the establishment of replacement value protection, and the beginning of discounts and service-based contracts. 

Modern Industry

While the moving industry went through a long period of turbulence and change in the 20th century, nothing compares to the onset of modern technology in the 21st century. The internet, smartphones, social media – all these factors revolutionized the industry and completely changed the way moving companies and consumers went about the transportation of household goods. 

Although the ever-increasing availability of information can be helpful for increasing efficiency and productivity, making the most of technology can be a daunting prospect. That’s where Oncue comes in. Oncue exists to help moving companies navigate this rapidly changing landscape, streamline move day processes, and grow their businesses.

A lot has changed since the first covered motor vans set off across the newly-paved highways, but the goals of the industry have remained the same: providing customers with an exceptional experience as they begin their new journey!

To find out more about how Oncue can help you grow your moving company, you can see our software in action today – book your free demo.

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