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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: United Parcel Service (UPS)

The early days of United Parcel Service
The early days of United Parcel Service (photo credit:

On August 28th, 1907, the world of logistics and package delivery was forever transformed with the founding of United Parcel Service (UPS) by James E. Casey in Seattle, Washington. What started as a small messenger and delivery service has grown into a global powerhouse in the shipping industry, known for its reliable and efficient services that connect people and businesses around the world.

American Messenger Company, precursor to UPS
American Messenger Company, precursor to UPS (photo credit:

The Founding of UPS and James E. Casey: Born on March 29, 1888, in Seattle, Washington, James E. Casey grew up in a time of rapid industrialization and economic growth. Casey's early life was marked by adversity as he suffered from health issues that affected his education and limited his formal schooling. However, Casey's lack of formal education motivated him to develop a strong work ethic and a thirst for knowledge. Before founding UPS, he worked various odd jobs and gained valuable insights into the transportation and delivery industry. He observed the inefficiencies and limitations of existing delivery services and recognized an opportunity to revolutionize the way packages were handled.

James E. Casey and friends Claude Ryan and Charlie Soderstrom initially pooled together $100 to establish the American Messenger Company, the precursor to UPS. The company's primary focus was delivering packages, notes, and messages by foot or bicycle around Seattle. This hands-on approach allowed Casey and his partners to gain firsthand insights into the nuances of the delivery process and understand the evolving needs of their customers.

Early UPS parcel delivery
(photo credit:

Early Challenges and Expansion: The early years of the American Messenger Company were not without challenges. The company faced competition from established telegraph companies and had to find innovative ways to differentiate itself. Casey's commitment to exceptional customer service and reliability set the company apart. In 1913, the company expanded its services to include parcel delivery, marking a crucial shift in its business model. In 1919, the company adopted the name United Parcel Service to reflect its focus on delivering parcels. The term "parcel" accurately encompassed the diverse range of items the company transported, from documents and small packages to larger and bulkier goods. The aftermath of World War I had ushered in a new era of industrial growth and global trade, leading to increased demand for reliable and efficient delivery services. Businesses and individuals alike sought a dependable partner to handle their shipments and ensure timely deliveries.

Iconic brown UPS truck
Iconic brown UPS truck (photo credit:

Innovations and Milestones: The iconic brown UPS trucks were introduced in the 1930s to enhance visibility and brand recognition. By this time, UPS had expanded its operations beyond Seattle and was serving multiple cities in the United States. The idea to use brown as the distinctive color for UPS's vehicles and create rolling billboards was conceived by George Washington Hill, a prominent advertising executive. Hill suggested that brown would be an eye-catching and memorable color for the delivery trucks. He believed that the color would make the vehicles stand out on the streets and leave a lasting impression on people, effectively turning the trucks into moving advertisements for UPS's services.

In 1935, UPS introduced the first overnight air delivery service, pioneering the concept of fast and reliable overnight shipping. In the 1950s, the company introduced an automated tracking system, providing real-time information on package location and delivery status. This innovation laid the foundation for the advanced tracking and tracing capabilities that customers rely on today. The introduction of the UPS Airline in the 1980s revolutionized the speed and efficiency of package delivery. The company's "hub and spoke" model, centered around the Worldport facility in Louisville, Kentucky, enabled packages to be sorted and routed quickly, ensuring timely deliveries across the country and internationally.

History of UPS logos
History of UPS logos (photo credit:

Global Expansion and Modern Era: The 1990s marked a period of significant global expansion for UPS. The company's presence extended beyond the United States, with operations in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. As e-commerce gained momentum, UPS became an essential partner for businesses and consumers, facilitating the rapid growth of online shopping and global trade.

In recent years, UPS has continued to embrace technological advancements to enhance its services. The company has explored alternative fuel options, electric vehicles, and sustainable practices to reduce its environmental impact. UPS has also diversified its offerings, providing solutions for supply chain management, healthcare logistics, and more.

UPS Air Fleet
(photo credit:

Did You Know?

  1. Air Delivery Network: UPS operates its own fleet of cargo aircraft, which is one of the largest in the world. The company's air delivery network spans continents and ensures swift international shipments.

  2. Biggest Day in Logistics: "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, has earned the nickname "the biggest day in logistics" due to the surge in online orders and package deliveries that occur on that day.

  3. UPS Store Franchise: The UPS Store, a franchise network offering shipping, printing, and mailbox services, was launched in 1980. It provides convenient solutions for small businesses and individuals.

  4. Becoming a Public Company: In 1999, UPS went public with its initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), enabling investors to own a stake in the company's success.

  5. Retail Access Points: UPS established the first retail access points for package drop-offs and pick-ups in 2002, making it more convenient for customers to send and receive packages without visiting a traditional UPS center.

  6. Carbon Neutral Shipping: In 2010, UPS became the first package delivery and logistics company to offer customers the option to offset the carbon emissions associated with the shipping of their packages, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability.

  7. Electric Delivery Trucks: UPS has been a pioneer in adopting electric and alternative-fuel vehicles for its delivery fleet. The company introduced its first electric delivery trucks in 2018, contributing to the reduction of emissions and promoting greener transportation solutions.

  8. Drone Delivery Trials: In 2019, UPS partnered with drone technology company Matternet to launch the first commercial drone delivery service in the United States. The trial aimed to test the feasibility of using drones for medical supply deliveries between facilities.

  9. Autonomous Vehicle Deliveries: UPS has been exploring the use of autonomous vehicles for package deliveries. In 2019, the company announced a partnership with the autonomous vehicle startup TuSimple to conduct trials of self-driving trucks for long-haul deliveries.

  10. Vaccine Distribution: During the COVID-19 pandemic, UPS played a crucial role in the distribution of vaccines. The company partnered with healthcare organizations and governments to ensure the timely and efficient delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to various locations.


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