Is this the wonder warehouse of 1962? And if so, why is everyone so... happy?
That was the question in 1956 when this ad for New Departure ball bearings proclaimed, "TOMORROW: Use no hands! For in this magic warehouse, orders fill themselves in seconds — electronically."
This vision of the completely automated warehouse is floating around in the popular imagination today. As the world's largest online retailer, Amazon has been on the leading edge of introducing new tech to more efficiently deliver goods to your door. But it still takes a hell of a lot of human beings to make all those packages ship on time. And those fulfillment centers aren't always the nicest places for humans to work.
But it really is fascinating to see how people of the 1950s imagined warehouse fulfillment might look in the 1960s. It would take nearly a half century longer, but they got a lot right. Electronic orders? Check. Computerized inventory management? Check. Untouched by human hands? Not so much. At least not yet.
From the November 1956 issue of Scientific American:
Here's tomorrow's "look" in warehousing! Electronically, orders are received, checked against inventory, assembled, packed, wrapped, labeled, and whisked to shipping—untouched by human hands!
When this futuristic "stock-chaser" takes shape, its intricate moving parts will turn on New Departure ball bearings . . . preferred throughout industry for their accuracy, dependability, and service-free performance.
If you have a notion for a new machine, call New Departure's engineering service for the ball bearings that will help make it a reality.
We still have quite a ways to go in order to make our warehouses more efficient and more friendly to the people who work there. But if a random ad for ball bearings from the 1950s can be trusted (and if you can't, what can you trust these days?) then things will be swell in the years ahead! Just look at those smiles! [Modern Mechanix]