At FreightWaves, the staff discuss logistics daily. FreightWaves writers write about logistics daily as well. But what exactly is logistics?
According to businessdictionary.com, the definition of logistics is the: “planning, execution and control of the procurement, movement and stationing of personnel, material and other resources to achieve the objectives of a campaign, plan, project or strategy. It may also be defined as the 'management of inventory in motion and at rest.’”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines logistics as “the careful organization of a complicated military, business or other activity so that it happens in a successful and effective way.”
Investopedia defines logistics as the “overall process of managing how resources are acquired, stored and transported to their final destination. Logistics management involves identifying prospective distributors and suppliers and determining their effectiveness and accessibility. Logistics managers are referred to as logisticians.”
Continuing, Investopedia explains that "Logistics was initially a military-based term used in reference to how military personnel obtained, stored and moved equipment and supplies. The term is now used widely in the business sector, particularly by companies in the manufacturing sectors, to refer to how resources are handled and moved along the supply chain.”
Each of these definitions is similar to the others, but there are certainly differences as well. But how did logistics begin?
An article on the Hopkins Distribution Company (based in Reno, Nevada), “The rise of logistics,” provides a great deal of information and is a “good read.” By the way, Hopkins offers another definition: “Logistics refers to the movement of products or services to a designated location at an agreed upon time, cost and condition.”
First, ancient Egyptian, Greek and then Roman armies conquered their known worlds. Each used military tactics that had never been seen before. The Roman legions, in particular, traveled thousands of miles from Rome and among other areas, conquered most of what is now Western Europe, Great Britain and Egypt. How? Again, military tactics were part of the reason for their success; another reason was the use of highly efficient logistics system to supply its legions and garrisons. Rome’s army certainly “lived off the land.” Additionally, however, military officers termed “logistikas” were assigned the duties of providing services related to supply and distribution of resources to Rome’s legions. Their job was to enable the soldiers to move from one post to another, or into battle, with all the required resources.
As the Roman Empire declined, other conquerors adapted the work of the logistikas. In the areas that had been under Roman control, they used and improved the efficient supply systems, roads and storehouses that the Romans had used. Forts and castles were not only used for effective defensive positions, but also as storage depots supported by the surrounding countryside.
Nordic, Italian, Spanish, French and English explorers set off to seek new lands; their logistical prowess (or lack thereof) often meant the success or failure of their missions.
Later, the invention of railway locomotion in the 1830s helped England lead the world during the Industrial Revolution. In addition to its railways, the English also used canals and an efficient (for the time) road system (some of it going back to the Roman Empire) to move goods around the country. And England’s fleet of ships allowed it to move goods to North America and colonies around the world.
In each war over the centuries, armies and navies were helped or hurt by their logistical capabilities. In the military, logistics officers are concerned with maintaining the supply lines of their own forces. Others in the military chain of command focus on the disruption of the enemy’s supplies, since an armed force without resources and/or transportation is soon unable to fight.
The internal-combustion engine was used first in automobiles and then trucks. Motorized transportation became part of the logistical equation (see earlier Flashback Friday articles about Fruehauf Trailer Company, Mack Trucks and White Motor Company). World War I was the first large-scale use of machines in warfare, and the first war to include motorized aircraft. After World War I, many nations’ industrial capabilities increased, as did their logistical needs.
During World War II, U.S. industry and military experts developed superior logistical methods and capabilities that helped supply the armed forces of the U.S. and its allies around the world. Among the key logistical tools used was the shipping container, which both Malcolm McLean and his Sea-Land Corporation and Fruehauf modified for civilian use after the war. As much as any single innovation, the shipping container revolutionized the global movement of freight and the world of logistics.
At the conclusion of World War II, the U.S. military continued to use its logistics to supply its bases in the United States around the world. But the science of logistics began to be used on a wide-scale basis for commercial applications.
Some of the information above, as well as greater detail on logistics and supply chain will be the subject of future Flashback Friday articles. However, the remainder of this article will focus on the early history of logistics.
Note that what is known as logistics has been around since ancient times, but was it was not termed “logistics” until the 1800s.
According to supplychainopz.com, a 2001 article by Lummas and others points out that the word "logistics" appeared in an English-language article in 1898. Many research-based articles point to the French word “logistique,” which appeared in the 1830 book Summary of the Art of War, written by Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini, who had been a general in Napoleon's army.
In his book, Jomini defined logistics as: “... the art of well ordering the functionings of an army, of well combining the order of troops in columns, the times of their departure, their itinerary, the means of communication necessary to assure their arrival at a named point …”
Jomini also explained that the word was derived from the French word “logis,” which translates to “lodgings.” French military terms include “maréchal des logis” (marshall of lodgings) and “major-général des logis” (major-general of lodging). In an English translation, Jomini wrote that from these titles of officers of the general staff came “the term logistique [logistics], which we employ to designate those who are in charge of the functionings of an army.”
However, supplychainopz.com points to the January 1810 issue of Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany as the first appearance of the word “logistics.” The magazine noted on page 286 that Dr. William Muller, the first public instructor of military science at the University of Gottingen, planned to publish a book The Elements of the Art of War. The word “logistics” was used in that notice. The book was published in 1811 as The Elements of the Science of War.
Muller’s book covered tactics for soldiers with different functions – infantry, cavalry, artillery and pontonier (soldiers who construct bridges). According to supplychainopz.com, “Muller explained in a very comprehensive manner about how ‘movement’ of each type of soldiers should be done, which included marching, transportation, wheeling, advancing, formation, transport of heavy guns, how to cross the river, etc.”
Most date the first use of the term “supply chain” to the 1980s. But according to supplychainopz.com, the term was first used in 1905. An English newspaper, The Independent, published an article that contained “supply chain,” referring to the process of supply for British forces in India.
According to supplychainopz.com, the following conclusions about the history of logistics and supply chain management can be made: both “logistics” and “supply chain” developed from military operations (while many believe that the term “supply chain” had its origins in the industrial or manufacturing sectors); in military terminology, logistics deals with the movement of troops and supply chain is focused on resupply points in military operations; the terms are not synonymous or interchangeable, but work together; supply chain issues are not just inter-organizational.
Based on the research and information done by staff members at supplychainopz.com, its definition is “logistics is about movement or flow or arc(s), and supply chain is about resupply points or nodes.”
FreightWaves will explore more about the history of logistics and the supply chain in future articles.
Please note that many sources were reviewed for this Flashback Friday article. In particular, FreightWaves would like to thank: Hopkins Distribution Company of Reno, Nevada; supplychainopz.com; and Cerasis for the research they did on this topic, which is referenced in the article.