The year is 1891. 121 years ago, to be precise. America’s economy is alive and well. Finally, families have the money to buy luxury items–new furniture, maybe some toys for the kids, pretty new dresses for mom, and Civil War books for dad. With all of this new-found money and opportunity, people are beginning to move all over the country–some are moving to the cities in hopes of making it big, some are moving to the country to get away from the rat race. Doesn’t sound too much different from today, right? Except these people didn’t have the luxury of renting U-Haul trucks to move their belongings, or having a storage unit to keep them all while they transitioned…well, not yet, at least.
Iowa: Where it All Started
Meet John and Martin Bekins, two brothers from Sioux City, Iowa. The Bekins see this trend in buying and moving and buying more, and then moving again. Thus, the Bekins Moving & Storage Co. was born. Starting off in Sioux City with only only three horse drawn vans and twelve employees, their company blossomed and changed the way Americans relocated. They became one of the first moving businesses on the West Coast to specialize in transporting household goods, making them the working man’s moving company of choice. As America grew and changed, so too did Bekins. They went from being one of the first companies to utilize fully covered horse-drawn moving vans, to introducing motor powered moving trucks in 1903, making it possible to transport more goods at longer distances.
Beyond the Horse-Drawn Moving Van
The Bekins were truly pioneers, not only in the moving business, but in the storage business as well. By 1895–only four years after opening, the Bekins opened their first storage warehouse in Los Angeles, and by the 1930’s, they had locations and moving vans all over the northwestern and eastern regions of the United States. In their prime, Bekins owned over 100 storage buildings in 14 states.
Their company was responsible for the industry’s first fireproof, reinforced steel and concrete warehouse in 1906 in Los Angeles, and then one soon after in San Francisco. This structure was so strong, in fact, that it was one of the few structures that did not collapse in great earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco. The company was known for its quality structures, making it the first choice for families to store their valuables. The quality of their company and its large presence in California eventually attracted the attention of Hollywood’s movie industry, at which point they created film storage facilities that cleaned, repaired, and distributed large quantities of film.
Keeping it in The Family
In 1927, Martin Bekins’ son, Milo, took over as the company chairman and transformed it into the country’s largest and most successful business of its kind. Milo believed that “moving is the American way”, and strived to innovate the company further. In 1928, under the new direction of Milo Bekins, the company completed its first transcontinental motor van move. By the 1950’s, the company saw its heyday, with about 1,000 Bekins trucks transporting personal belongings back and forth across the country, and even across continents.
The Present and the Future
Today, the company still thrives, specializing in moving for families, companies, and even military personnel throughout the country, and even across the globe. They have bought out and own hundreds of modern storage facilities across the country (subscribers: some facilities may even be offering storage auctions!), making them as strong and as present as they were when they first started out. Bekins has definitely paved the way for modern self storage, and it would be safe to say that this 121-year-old company is here to stay.
If there is one infinite truth of American living, it’s that we’ve always wanted more stuff. Even more so than in the early 1900’s, America is moving, downsizing, upgrading–you name it, we’ve got to do it and we’ve got to have it–even if we don’t have the space for it. And thanks to innovative pioneers like those of the Bekins family, all of that is possible in more. Without the Bekins, the face of self storage could have been completely different…and without self storage, storage auctions wouldn’t even exist.
So next time you win a good unit, while you’re doing your victory dance and thanking all of your lucky stars, take a moment to thank The Bekins and the work they did to make the business what it is today.