Stories of giants: UPS – it all began with a borrowed hundred dollar bill

The mileage covered by Tom Camp would be the equivalent of two round-trips to the moon, if, of course, he was a space shuttle pilot. The American UPS driver started his first delivery in the same year the Beatles released their debut album, “Please Please Me”. Soon their hit “Love me do” topped the American music charts, and Tom Camp fell in love with parcel delivery. Today he is 79 years old and still works behind the wheel. He has been driving for almost 60 years without a single accident. The same may be said about the history of UPS – the “brown courier”, which will be celebrating 120 years in 2021.

Tom Camp is a living legend and epitomises the UPS symbol: he is the oldest professional driver in the world, who has been continuously driving the longest without accident, in the world’s oldest courier company. Both the driver and the company are at a very noble age, but at the same time in full fitness and willing to operate.

From $100 to $100 million

American Messenger Company (the original name of UPS) delivered its first packages in 1907. At that time, it employed several couriers who made deliveries on foot or by bicycle and motorcycle.  The company was founded by James E. Casey, who invested a borrowed $100 in the business. Initially, UPS delivered mainly documents as well as restaurant meals.

When 95-year-old James E. Casey died in 1983, his personal property was valued at $100 million (net). Throughout his long life he had been developing his business and contributing significant amounts to charity. Orphaned by his father and forced to be his own breadwinner from his early years, he has been supporting young people from incomplete families.

Today, UPS’s annual revenues reach $70 billion. The company has branches in over 200 countries around the world and employs an army of nearly 500,000 employees. UPS delivers over 20 million parcels, letters and documents every day.

The first Ford Model T.

The first car bought by Casey was a Ford Model T van from 1913 which enabled the company to make deliveries outside Seattle and its area, which significantly increased the company’s turnover. In 1919, Casey’s fleet under the name UPS (United Parcel Service) began its conquest of the USA.

Currently, UPS is famous for operating the most vehicles of all courier companies worldwide. Over 120,000 vans, buses, truck tractors, motorcycles and other wheeled vehicles are operating under the brand colours of the American giant. Additionally, there are about 30,000 semitrailers and transhipment vehicles to handle sea transport and several hundred owned and chartered flying machines.

Pullman brown – a trustworthy colour

Casey initially wanted the company brand colour to be yellow. Today’s pullman brown, which has survived all UPS logo changes, is thanks to Charlie Soderstrom. You could say that UPS colours are completely “non-promotional”: subdued, mild, attracting little attention. Red, orange, yellow, blue and even black – these are the colours on which you could build a brand visualisation. Brown is rather the colour for a producer of sweets, bread, natural leather products or a carpenter, but not for a courier company. Did the person choosing the company colours ignore these recommendations completely?

This is exactly how it was: Soderstrom convinced Casey to give up yellow and choose the colour which George Pullman used for the railroad sleeping cars he was designing. Why? Because dirt is less visible on brown … Although the reason was so obvious, the colours chosen for the company are associated with calmness and stability, inspire trust, have a soothing effect and are associated with nature. Instead of saying “we are the fastest,” UPS implies that you can sleep peacefully: when you entrust your package with them, you don’t have to worry that it will go missing or be damaged.

“The best service at the lowest rates”

The professed motto of UPS used by the company 120 years ago, still remains valid. And it constantly enriches its content. It seems that the reason for the American courier’s success lays not in some revolutionary inventions or sudden shifts, but solid market analysis and wellthoughtout business decisions. UPS stays conservative in its attachment to the values ​​developed over the decades, and at the same time understands that  the only constant is change.

UPS became famous for introducing innovative technologies for courier route planning (learning algorithms based on AI) to manage its large fleet of vans. It is to avoid left-hand turns (in right-hand drive countries). The algorithms set routes in such a way as to minimise the waiting for a free lane for turning left, and to take advantage of the  possibility at most intersections in the USA to turn right when there is a red light for traffic going straight on. After the system was introduced, UPS boasted for months about its overall decreased mileage, savings on fuel and lower carbon dioxide emissions.

However, you are wrong to assume that UPS will continue to base its future on its car fleet. Although UPS has never been regarded as an air transport giant, this may change soon. And it may happen not due to the bell-shaped Boeing 747-8 (recently UPS bought more than ten such machines), but to deft drones, which, according to courier market analysts, are the future of the industry. Soon usage of these small aircraft may dominate last mile logistics. UPS, as the first courier company in the USA and in the world, has obtained permission to deliver parcels using drones which may fly out of sight of the drone’s operator. This means that you can enter remote control and use the autopilot mechanism. Is this the beginning of a revolution? We shall see. However, it is obvious that no new Tom Camp will be able to cover the mileage equivalent to a return trip to the moon by regular van. Either there will be no such need or an autonomous vehicle will do it for him.