Seventy-five years is a long time. Nobody on our staff was even alive when Material Handling & Logistics was launched in 1945, the same year that World War Two ended. We were known as Flow back then, and over the years the name has changed a few times (we’ve also been known as Material Handling Engineering and Material Handling Management before becoming MH&L in 2010). But a material handling magazine by any other name still focuses on the same basic premise: making, storing and moving products is a hard job and takes a lot of work and innovation to do successfully.
Recognizing this is our 75th year, I took the opportunity to comb through the archives and unearthed the very first issue of Flow, from October 1945, just one month after the war ended. In many ways, a lot has changed (for instance, we didn’t even talk about a “supply chain” way back when; that term didn’t even come along until the 1980s). Nobody in the 1940s was talking about omni-channel, cobots, e-commerce, blockchain, Uber-ization of freight, delivery drones, predictive analytics, telematics, the Amazon effect, driverless trucks, wearables, or any of a hundred other topics that are standard fare for MH&L’s 2020 audience. But to mangle an old cliché, the more things change, the more the people impacted by those changes still grapple with the same old things.
While the pace of modern life today appears to be lightyears faster than it was during the years of “the Greatest Generation,” in some ways we seem to be going in reverse. Motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, a keen observer of contemporary life, tends to weigh what occupies us as a society today on a scale that looks at history as measured in centuries, not merely in moments. Here, taken from one of his speeches and presented in no particular order, are some of Kelly’s insights: “We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We plan more, but accomplish less. We have more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less common sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems. We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.”
Kelly pretty much describes the tempo of the modern supply chain, where people have access to more goods and services—at almost an instant’s notice—but nobody seems to be enjoying what they have because the minute something arrives, they’re on the hunt for the next thing. Who would have imagined, when Flow launched, that today billions of people own smartphones with more computer power and telecommunications capability than even existed in 1945?
And yet, back in 1945, the kinds of problems that preoccupied Flow’s audience—training forklift operators, efficient distribution movement, overcoming bottlenecks, better packaging techniques, handling heavy materials—are still problems we’re dealing with today. Technology may get smarter, but the demand for speed and efficiency is exploiting every bit of that technology and still insisting on more speed and more efficiency… and of course, at lower costs. So if we’ve learned anything in the past 75 years, it’s that there will never be a shortage of challenges that material handling and logistics professionals will be expected to deal with.
In any event, as we celebrate our Diamond Jubilee year here at MH&L, it’s appropriate to let Irving B. Hexter, our founding publisher, have the final word. Although he passed away in 1960 and had no idea that his trade publication would eventually spin off into things like websites, e-newsletters, blogs, videos, e-books and numerous other channels, Hexter’s mission statement for the magazine back in 1945 is just as appropriate today as it was at the end of WW II, so let me slightly paraphrase him as we point towards the future: “MH&L is dedicated to the stimulation of the whole material handling and logistics field—in an effort to make the industry even stronger and more productive.” Thanks to all the talented people who have worked on this brand over the years, and the biggest thanks to you—our readers—for sticking with us for the first 75 years of our journey!