You know those big brown trucks that are keeping us well-delivered during this time of COVID-19? Well, there’s some interesting history and tech to United Parcel Service, or UPS.

Jim Cameron

Founded as the American Messenger Company in Seattle in 1907, most deliveries back then were to stores, not customers, and done on foot or by bicycle. Adding a Model T to their fleet in 1913, the company started serving neighborhoods. By 1930 the company expanded to most cities in the East and Midwest, adding delivery by airline cargo partnerships to their modes of transportation.

From 1975 to 1982 UPS was headquartered in Greenwich and was serving all 48 contiguous states and Puerto Rico. In 1988 UPS launched its own airline fleet, now the 10th largest in the U.S. and serving 815 destinations worldwide.

In 1991 UPS acquired Mailboxes Etc and rebranded its 5,000 independently owned stores as UPS Stores.

When a package enters the UPS system it goes first to the closest hub by truck or train (if less than 200 miles) or by air (if farther). After an initial sort it then goes to the hub nearest the final destination.

UPS operates airport sorting hubs in Philadelphia, Dallas, Ontario CA, Rockford IL and its largest in Louisville KY, known as Worldport.
Worldport is a 5 million square-foot complex the size of 90 football fields with 300 plane loads of packages arriving 24 hours a day. The facility can sort 416,000 packages an hour. Processing time is about ten minutes per package. It is heavily automated, boasting 33,000 conveyors covering 55 miles in length.

The packages are then shipped again to the hub nearest the destination and trucked to local warehouses such as the one in Norwalk.
Here’s where more serious technology comes into play with a system called ORION, On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation. The software has 80 pages of algorithms combining maps, customer information, traffic conditions, pick-up requests and package priorities to give each driver the fastest route to complete deliveries.

One of ORION’s time-saving tricks is avoiding left hand turns for drivers. Not only are right hand turns faster, but they’re safer. That’s saved UPS drivers 20 million miles of driving, 98 million minutes of idling and 9 million gallons of fuel a year.

UPS even has its own GPS system giving its drivers detailed information about each destination. As the driver gets close to the drop-off location the system beeps, telling him to slow down.

When the big brown truck pulls up in front of your house to make a delivery you’ll notice the driver usually stops the engine. He doesn’t stroll to your door, he jogs. With hundreds of deliveries per day per driver, it all adds up.

Sometimes the driver needs you to sign to accept the delivery. Even that involves some amazing tech… DIAD, the Delivery Information Acquisition Device, a 1.3 pound handheld computer that scans barcodes, collects signatures and stores information about each package. (Delivery signatures are now on hold thanks to COVID-19).

Today UPS is busier than ever, but has also suspended its delivery guarantees due to “service disruptions.” They are not alone in that situation as competitors FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service are also struggling to keep up.

It’s clear that sheltering in place is good for UPS’s business if it can handle the load. In fact, UPS is still hiring new workers.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

Jim Cameron | Columnist

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at

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