A Brief History of the Courier Industry

People have been moving goods from A-B for several millenniums with the first recorded examples being that of the Egyptians moving materials vast distances to build the infamous pyramids. There have been many methods of transporting goods throughout history from human messengers that would have to physically run many miles, to homing pigeons that would fly home to deliver important documents. The first documented organised courier service dates all the way back to Egypt in 2400 BC where runners would courier documents carved in to stone.

Delivery by Animals

Before the invention of motor vehicles, delivering parcels wasn’t an easy task and man had to rely on our four legged and winged friends to help deliver mail and packages. Here’s some of the animals that were used as couriers before the extensive delivery networks that we have today were implenmented:


In Australia, Camels were used to carry mail and parcels across long distances up until 1929 when the implementation of railroads replaced them.


Also in Australia, as well as Alaska and Canada, dogsleds were used to carry mail and parcels from 1890 all the way to 1963. 10 dogs would pull a load weighing up to 700 lbs!


Ancient empires used comprehensive relay networks to deliver mail and parcels by horse. The Hanseatic League were documented as having a regular courier service by horse as early as 1274 which ran between the principal towns and castles. By the 16th century a horse courier network had expanded to cover the whole of Western Europe. In the USA between 1860 and 1861 the Pony Express delivered mail and parcels on a relay network from East to West across North America . Horses are still used to deliver mail and parcels today in remote parts of Tibet, China and also at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA.

The Modern Courier Industry

The courier industry has come a long way since the days of delivering by horseback and is now led by expert carriers and numerous resellers with comprehensive networks spanning all over the globe. The evolution of transport has meant that parcels can now be sent across the globe in as little as just one day. Developments in technology and the internet has opened up international parcel delivery to every one and has allowed for vast improvements to the services offered by the biggest players in the industry. Below is a brief timeline of how the modern courier industry has developed over the last century:


The first of the big four carriers was born when Jim Cassey borrowed $100 from a friend and started a messenger service  in Seattle which would eventually become UPS.

1913 -1918

Jim Cassey’s company focuses on delivering packages for retailers after acquiring a car. Jim Cassey soon merged with his competitor and in 1916 the company was joined by Charlie Soderstrom who introduced the brown colours and even more vehicles.

1919 -1930

Jim Cassey and his partners establish the name United Parcel Service and expand their operation to include most cities throughout the Pacific Coast. UPS were soon offering daily pick-ups, streamlined documentation and were the first to debut conveyor belt technology for handling packages. By 1930 UPS had expanded to the East Coast of the USA


In 1946, K.W Transport was established with a single truck by Ken Thomas in Australia, changing its name to TNT 12 years later.


UPS offers air services between the West and East coasts of the USA


DHL was established in 1969 becoming the first international express service getting documents to customs  offices ahead of  freight enabling goods to pass through without delays.


DHL opens territories in the Far East


FedEx begins operations delivering 186 packages in its first night


UPS offers an air service to every sing state in the USA


DHL International is established with offices opening in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia


DHL is now operational in the UK, is shipping to NEW Zealand, Fiji, Thailand and Malaysia and is handling over 500,000 Shipments


TNT opens in the UK.


TNT becomes Britain’s first ever door-to-door next day delivery service.


TNT begins Sameday services in Britain.


DHL opens up express services in Europe for the first time.


Fast Lane Couriers is established, eventually becoming an online courier reseller.


UPS operates its own aircraft and officially becomes an airline.


UPS is now delivering to more than 175 countries.


UPS introduces electronic tracking for ground parcels


UPS Launches their website


UPS launches online tracking software providing a real time  image of the recipient’s signature.


TNT launches Electronic Proof of Delivery, enabling them to collect parcels within 30 minutes of a customers request.


FedEx becomes a global brand.

The world’s first SMS service fr tracking parcels is launched by DHL.


TNT launches an advanced track and trace system enabling customer’s to track parcels through the web and from mobiles by WAP or SMS as well as email.

2004 – Present Day

The introduction of courier resellers in to the market place has made courier services much more affordable to both small businesses and individuals. Resellers have made it possible for customers to quickly get a quote, have complicated paperwork automatically generated for them and has reduced the costs of shipping to such an extent that in many cases courier services are much cheaper and faster than postal services such as Royal Mail. Delivery networks are now more extensive than ever with services delivering to the most remote corners of the world and technology is developing at a rapid rate.


Seen the News?


  • Sammy

    I really enjoyed reading this post about messenger service, thank you for sharing. I rarely come across the article equally interesting and informative!