A Moment in Time: The Story of Oregon Transfer

Delivery teams, circa 1895 Oregon Transfer Co. joined what was then the American Warehousemen’s Association in 1912. The company still serves customers in the Pacific Northwest – and it is still a member of the International Warehouse Logistics Association. Founded in 1871, the company assumed properties and business of the Portland Hack and Dray Co. (founded in 1868). The company’s early leaders helped establish the city of Portland and statehood for Oregon.

Delivery teams, circa 1900This rich history, with wagon trains and westward expansion, reveals how Oregon Transfer and the logistics industry it reflects are vital to U.S. economic development.

Early Oregon Transfer stockholders and managers were prominent figures in the region. Today, a good many streets in Portland are named after these same individuals.

Company stockholders changed hands several times over the early years until the Bates family acquired the company in 1926. Donald Bates operated the company until his untimely death in 1941. Several generations later, ownership remains with this family.

These pioneering figures knew that the movement of goods was a key component to building the region. In those days, before the development of any real infrastructure, most commerce in the West was moved regionally by ship and locally by horse drawn cart.

When Oregon Transfer joined the American Warehousemen’s Association, the membership process was no easy feat. The application required prospective companies to show documents of incorporation, insurance papers, and warehouse receipt samples just to have their applications considered. Companies also answered a series of questions about their businesses and provided letters of recommendation from warehouse’s banker and other warehouse companies. The association secretary then collected formal written consent from every board director before a formal acceptance was offered the prospect. The entire system was handled through the postal system and could take months to process.

AWA committees for the year of 1912 represent the most prominent topics of the time:

  • Committee on Laws and Legislation
  • Committee on Banks and Warehouses
  • Committee on Railroads and Steamships
  • Committee on Warehouse Construction and Labor-saving Devices
  • Committee on Cold Storage
  • Committee on General Merchandise
  • Committee on Bonded Warehouses
  • Committee on Transfer and Forwarding
  • Committee on Household Goods
  • Committee on Insurance
  • Committee on Classification and Statistics

Here’s how Oregon Transfer’s business was described in the articles of incorporation: “The general transfer business of freight and passengers of all kinds and descriptions in the state of Oregon, across and along rivers, and others streams forming the boundary thereof, and in adjoining territories; to receive and receipt for all kinds of baggage and freight, and the same for hire transfer and convey to and from any and all depots, warehouses, steamships, steamboats, ferry boats, sailing vessels, railroad cars, hotels, houses, shops, stables, stores, or other places or places within said state—and to transfer and convey passengers to and from any of the points above.”

Over the years, as infrastructure developed and technology progressed, the business evolved in lockstep. Horses made way for trucks; carts and carriages for trailers. Dockworkers traded their hooks and rope for forklifts and stretch film. Horse stables were converted to warehouse space and additional real estate was acquired and developed with modern food-grade facilities. Beautiful leather-bound ledgers, meticulously maintained in artful script, were replaced by computers and WMS software.

Today Oregon Transfer Co., is a varied, highly efficient organization operating nearly 1 million square feet of modern, food-grade warehouse facilities. Operations include a proprietary truck flee and freight brokerage. The company performs many value-added services such as repacking, fulfillment, freight management, and logistics.

Steve Giering serves as the company’s president and he is serving on the IWLA 125th Anniversary Committee.

Do you have a story to share about your warehouse? IWLA is collecting photos and artifacts from members for the “Warehouse Evolution: 1891 to Today” museum exhibit featured in the 2016 IWLA Convention & Expo. Contact Morgan Zenner at 847.813.4696 or mzenner@IWLA.com to learn how you can get involved in this milestone event.

Oregon Transfer contributed to this article.

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