Storage Facilities: What drives its history?
When did the need for extra storage become a business venture in America? In the decades following massive movements to the West, perhaps the most famous being the California Gold Rush and the Oregon Trail, the question surrounding the storage of one’s belongs intensified. Often, the answer hinged on the strength and willpower of those traversing the brutal American landscape. One can imagine, when equipped with nothing but a horse, buggy, and a couple oxen, that families frequently opted for the bare essentials, selling or abandoning their material possessions for good. It was then, at the cusp of the twentieth century, that two Iowa brothers named John and Martin Bekins recognized these bittersweet circumstances as an opportunity for enterprise. Within no time, these men found themselves in the storage and transportation business, operating little more than a handful of horse-drawn carriages. Little did they know that their venture would evolve into a nationwide business at the forefront of its industry. Another beginning for the storage industry can be traced across the Pacific. Prior to extended voyages, European companies, often banks, took ownership of or safeguarded one’s belongings until their return. In some cases, the items left behind acted as collateral for debts gone unpaid. Here, the need for storage wasn’t as far removed from the home as in the States, so much as the transition from home to a privately managed space that no one but the groundskeeper occupied. In a way, it was a glorified version of our modern industrial unit. Examining these roots, one may see that the need for storage was triggered and connected by one commonality: mobility. Following the ebb and flow of human’s nomadic nature, the storage business has grown exponentially. Tom Vanderbilt, in his article “Self-Storage Nation” says, “The average American will change residences 11 times in his life.” That is eleven potential opportunities for storage rentals. Multiply that by the number of Americans and you have—well, a whole lot of stuff. The Self Storage Association (SSA) represents more than 48,500 facilities in the United States alone. But mobility is not enough to sustain such growth, Vanderbilt argues. “American consumerism” is the other “obvious” culprit. Consumerism, for better or for worse, has reached celebrity status in the form of reality TV shows and commercial stores, one being, quite literally—The Container Store. In a similar light, storage facilities themselves (or lack thereof) have also gained fame through TV shows like “Storage Wars” and “Hoarders.” In a sense, the very option to rent storage and doing so, has shaped a tangible part of our contemporary American culture. A part that measures about “three times the size of Manhattan Island (NY),” at 78 square miles of rentable storage space according to SSA in 2013. When and by how much this number will change in times to come varies widely. But one thing is clear: mobility, consumerism, and numerous other factors relating to cultural changes in families, income, the designs of homes, etc. weave one intricate web in regards to the history of storage. Photo Credit