A Not Entirely True History of Self-Storage: Part 1

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historySelf-storage, the modern industry, has been around only for about fifty years, but it’s not like people didn’t have too much stuff before the 1960s. So, in the interest of providing a public service, I want to help educate you – the storage blog reading public – about the history of self-storage. Because, of course, I care.

Before orange garage doors dotted the landscape, before take-out food was invented, even before Suzanne Somers tried to sell America on the Thighmaster, there was a need for self-storage. Please, join me on this short jaunt through history, one unit at a time.

UCave It

Ogg, a hunter-gatherer from the Lascaux Cave region of France, was the first to utilize self-storage. It was not exactly self-storage in the modern sense. Ogg, in addition to his important duties as a hunter of large beasts and gatherer of small berries, was also a starving artist (sometimes literally) who needed someplace to store his art. When Ogg’s wife, Bonka (nee Clonka), decided that he couldn’t keep his art on the walls of her chic antelope-skin tepee anymore, he had to get creative.

So he found a quiet corner of a quiet cave and spent his time alone, deep in thought, and there he created his masterpiece: an antelope by a tepee. Thousands of years later, people travel from universities across the world to see this businessman’s brilliant insight. Unfortunately, he was unable to patent his idea before…

Babylon 5 X 5

When the Babylonians started to settle down from their nomadic ways, they realized that the time had come to store their religious items in a more permanent home. So, what did they create? Ziggurats. Say it with me… Ziggurats. Got a little zig built right into it.

These giant step-sided storage facilities contained rooms for religious storage, sacred chapels for priests to perform secret worship ceremonies, and even “bunkers” for high-priests to escape rising water during occasional floods. Think of Ziggurats as an early form of secured storage.

Pyramid Long-Term Store-It-All

While Ogg and the Babylonians each prodded the storage world in new directions, leave it to the Egyptians to really take the concept to a new level. Never content to do something partway, the Egyptians pulled out all the stops when they did self-storage.

Pharaoh Khufu realized that the “self” in “self storage” did not need to refer to who does the storing. Khufu had the insight that the best self storage would actually store the self. And once Khufu set his mind to it – BOOM. So, he rallied together a dedicated group of nearly 100,000 slaves who selflessly offered fifteen forced, unpaid years of their lives to fulfill the Pharaoh’s dream: a 455 foot tall, half-million square foot, pyramid, with self-storage capability fit for a king.

Fitting for the environment, this giant stone self-storage unit was climate controlled through a series of tubes, though it was clearly not cost-controlled. It was also a 756 X 756. Good luck finding one of those today.

Also, I’m doing everything that I can to avoid making a joke about a pyramid scheme. You’re welcome.

Crete ‘n’ Crate

In the same way that the Egyptians went big, the Greeks went for perfection. They strove to create the most perfectly secured storage unit. And they succeeded, though it was a hollow victory. Recognizing that the key to great security is preventing would be thieves from even getting close to the valuables, they created a labyrinth designed to confuse and fluster would-be plunderers, like those lousy Mycenaeans.

But, unfortunately, they didn’t consider that their brilliant security system / maze would also cause a real problem for consumers. Most were permanently lost in the seemingly endless halls. Plus, the guard Minotaur was a real hassle.

Storem Forum

The Romans submitted a purchase offer to the Crete ‘n’ Crate Board of Directors, which was rebuffed. The takeover bid became hostile, and the Romans quickly took control of the franchise. They changed very little, but renamed the whole company and claimed credit.

What happened next, oh Storage-Guru?

What happened after Rome? How will we go from the Labyrinth to the orange doors we know and love today? Well… for that, you’ll just have to come back another time.

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Ken is the Director of Content and Promotions for the Online Self Storage Directory blog. He loves the St. Louis Cardinals, obscure historical trivia, and the incredible beards on Civil War generals.