A brief (yet surprising) history of freight forwarding

Posted by Temando on Monday, October 14, 2013

Freight is an area that we all have an interested in, from the computer you are reading this on to much of the food you have eaten today, freight means that we have all the things around us that we need. For the past hundred or so years, we have become a truly global society. In the past humans used local goods that they made or grew themselves. As our civilisation has grown in size and complexity freight has become increasingly important. The world is diverse and no area has everything it needs. Hence freighting goods and materials around to ensure that despite regional variation you can have your breakfast and check your emails. 

Freight has been around for many thousands of years, with evidence of English and Flemish traders selling wool and other commodities to each other many years ago, for the majority of history the owner of the freight has been the one in charge of moving it. However, as the world grew there was a need for an intermediary to take charge of organising the freight, there was a need for freight forwarders.

freight forwarder is a person or company who organizes shipments for individuals or corporations to get goods from the manufacturer or producer to a market, customer or final point of distribution. Forwarders contract with a carrier to move the goods. A forwarder does not move the goods but acts as an expert in supply chain management. A forwarder contracts with carriers to move cargo ranging from raw agricultural products to manufactured goods. 

Funnily enough though, the first international freight forwarders were not canny businessmen who saw an opportunity but rather were innkeepers in London who held and re-forwarded the personal effects of their hotel guests. The original function of these hotelier freight forwarders was to arrange for carriage by contracting with various carriers.

One of the earliest proper freight forwarders was Thomas Meadows and Company Limited of London, England. With increasingly reliable rail transport and steamships there was a sudden demand for the fledgling freight forwarding industry. Trade developed between Europe and North America, creating additional demand.  Their forwarder responsibilities included things like advice on documentation and the customs requirements in the country of destination. His correspondent agent overseas looked after his customers' goods and kept him informed about matters that would affect movement of goods.

In modern times the forwarder accepts the same responsibilities. It operates either as a domestic carrier or otherwise with a corresponding agent overseas or with his own branch-office. In a single transaction, the forwarder may be acting as a carrier (principal) or as an agent for his customer or both. 

The Lloyd's Loading List is the freight forwarding industry’s journal of record, it was first published 160 years ago as a UK export directory today it provides details of forwarders, nvoccs, shipping lines/agents who serve over 10,000 ports globally
These days there are many freight options, from sea to air, you no longer have to get in touch with a London hotelier if you want to get your shipping from one country to another.