History of Self Storage: Tracing its Origins and Growth

Posted on 11 October 2023 | 7 minute read

With smaller development blocks and apartment dwellings quickly replacing the great Australian dream of a large backyard and spacious shed, self-storage is fast ingraining itself into Australian culture.

As we run out of places to keep our goods and chattels, we’re left wondering where to stash it all. Commercial rent rises also force businesses to get creative with the square footage they can comfortably afford to rent.

We don’t have to look far to see why a self storage unit has become such a valuable service, but where did it all start, and how has it evolved to meet the storage challenges residents and businesses face every day?

The Origins of Self Storage

While humans have always needed ingenious methods for storing food and water, the earliest humans travelled light and didn’t have much call for storing personal items.

As agricultural societies replaced hunter-gatherers, humanity had more time on their hands, and material possessions became more essential to everyday life.

The first evidence of people storing personal effects is found in China. According to legend, an Ancient Chinese man who liked to collect everyday items from around his village was forced to create a unique storage system that kept his knick-knacks out of sight and his wife happy.

He rose to the challenge by creating large clay pots to store his valuables. These pots were kept in underground storage chambers far from his wife, where they were no longer underfoot. Other residents of the village were impressed and quickly placed their orders for pots of their own. There’s no way to verify this story as factual, but if true, it’s quite possibly the first example of a commercial self-storage solution.

The first self-storage facility in Australia

The first storage facility erected in Australia is credited to Kenneth Hansen, who established Kennards Self Storage in 1973 in the Sydney suburb of Moorebank. It’s considered by many to be the true beginning of the self-storage phenomenon we know today.

Hansen was inspired by the storage industry that had been building in the States for over a decade. The units could be rented monthly, giving home and business owners more flexibility during moves, renovations, or just needing extra space.

Many other companies have entered the market over the years, offering a range of services, but most lack one key feature that many customers craved: portability.

Fortunately, 1800 We Store It has stepped in to provide some much-needed flexibility in self-storage options,
self-storage facility

Self-Storage in Ancient Times

Humans have been storing belongings for a long time, with storage methods evolving alongside societal changes, such as shifting from highly mobile hunter-gatherer tribes to agrarian societies that settled down.

As we mentioned, the first signs of storing personal items as a commercial operation appear to have originated in Ancient China, but this is an entertaining speculation.

What about other ancient cultures? Was storage space the precious commodity it has become today?

Romans are responsible for many beneficial inventions such as aqueducts, heating and cooling solutions and even sewage systems. However, they didn’t need personal storage solutions outside the home and got by with plain wooden crates to keep everyday items out of the elements.

Evidence shows that Ancient Egyptians invented dovetail interlocking joinery and used their exceptional carpentry skills to create specialised wooden storage chests for keeping jewellery, tools, clothing, and weapons. The wealthier the household, the more ornate the chests became.

Still, there is no evidence of commercial storage services operating during Ancient Egyptian times. Wealthier homes did appear to have rooms dedicated to storing amphoras of wine.

While ancient historical records leave the story of personal storage open to interpretation, more recent and factual historical records reveal that the industry dates back to the late 1800s in Omaha, Nebraska. The first self storage business on record was created by Martin and John Bekins when they built warehouses to serve a growing population of immigrants searching for a new life in the “Land of Opportunity.”

The Evolution of Self-Storage in the 20th Century

The modern concept of personal storage didn’t start taking shape until the late 20th Century, when reinforced steel warehouses began to dot the urban landscape around Los Angeles and San Francisco, starting in 1906. These represented a less elaborate version of the modern storage industry, as the warehouses were large open spaces with items stored in bundles on the concrete flooring.

The first warehouses where clients had exclusive access to a personal storage unit date back to the 1950s. These were operated by the Collum family in Fort Lauderdale in 1958, giving the business the simple title of “Lauderdale Storage.”

Despite the somewhat uninspiring business name, the idea quickly caught on, and forward-looking entrepreneurs snapped up otherwise worthless land and built the first storage units rented out to residents and businesses short on space.

During the following decade, Russ Williams from Odessa founded the famous “A1 U-Store It” personal storage service. Williams had already found success in the oil industry, but as an avid fisherman, he needed somewhere to store fishing equipment he didn’t regularly use.

Purchasing a block of empty apartments solved his storage problems, but the real inspiration for his next business venture came about when he rented the empty apartments out to others. The idea of purpose-built self storage facilities was born and quickly spread around the globe.

The United Kingdom got their first units in the early 1960s, while Australia was a little late to the party, with the first units opening up in the 1970s.
Evolution of Self-Storage

Self-Storage Today

Self storage units are now a common sight around urban areas, with billions of square feet of rentable storage available worldwide. Still, customers have come to expect more modern conveniences unavailable during the earliest years of personal storage as a business.

While the first units were little more than a compact collection of garages with padlocked roll-up garage doors, the modern storage service is much more sophisticated. Today’s clients have come to expect around-the-clock surveillance and digital security measures like key cards and keypad access.

While climate control was unheard of in the fledgling storage industry, it’s now a regularly requested feature. Many clients use storage companies to keep delicate artworks and antique furniture in pristine condition in a highly secure, temperature-controlled facility.

Mobile Self Storage – The Next Evolution in the Self Storage Industry

There’s no denying that a storage facility in a fixed location is an excellent option for a wide range of storage scenarios, but they are not always the best solution. This leads us to the next evolutionary leap in personal storage solutions: the portable storage unit.

A storage depot across town is not a convenient option when moving house or relocating your small business. Transporting your items to the storage unit burdens you with the need to do all that work again when relocating everything to the new location.

It’s a lot of time and work that could otherwise be used for more productive endeavours, like running your business or enjoying your weekend.

Portable storage units from 1800 We Store It offers convenient self-storage solutions. A sturdy steel shipping container arrives at your door to immediately eliminate one of the biggest hassles of self-storage: transporting items to and from the unit. With a container on your driveway, you can take as long as you need to pack it.

When you are ready for the next step, you have more options. Have the container hauled to a secure storage depot, get it delivered directly to your new location, or keep it on your property for as long as needed until the renovation is complete.

Shipping container storage offers the most affordable self-storage prices in the industry, with containers costing not much more than a takeaway meal a week.

If you need self-storage but are concerned about the logistical challenges of a traditional unit, call 1800 We Store It for professional advice and a quick quote.

We have container sizes that can store small one-bedroom units up to a 4-bedroom home. We also have depots in locations covering the Greater Melbourne area, so we are sure to have a depot close to you.