A Brief History of Self Storage

20th October 2022


Have you ever visited your storage unit and wondered how it all started? For many, self storage is a relatively new concept but it has actually existed in one form or another for years. In this blog, we will take you through a timeline of how self storage has developed throughout history.

The Storage of Food

Storage has been around almost as long as humans have been around. Since the prehistoric era, people have faced the problem of food preservation and have developed clever ways to keep food fresh. In colder climates, people stored food in caves in order to preserve it. In hotter climates, food was dried.


In the Middle Ages, ‘still houses’ were created, where fruits, vegetables and herbs were stored and dried. In many historic civilisations, food storage was essential for survival. Food was grown and harvested in the summer and stored until it was eaten in the winter, when harvests were less bountiful.

The Origins of Self Storage

It is widely believed that the concept of storing one’s personal belongings developed in China around 6,000 years ago. Several stories exist about the origins of storage in this region. One describes a warrior named Xiang Lau, who built a stone structure to store the bones of his vanquished enemies.

Another version of the story is that Xiang Lau’s wife grew sick of all his rock collection cluttering up the house and built giant pots to store the collection underground. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of either story, so the true origin of self-storage remains a mystery.


Self Storage Arrives in Britain

In the 18th and 19th centuries, self storage became popular amongst British people who were going on long journeys to newly-acquired colonies. There was a big movement of the aristocracy to India and people sought ways to store their belongings in case of their return.


At the same time, trade between the colonies was booming and merchants needed to store their valuables while they were away on their travels. The solution? Banks allowed customers to leave their valuable possessions with them.


Self Storage in America

The first storage facility popped up in the US in the 1850s, when the Belkin brothers, Martin and John, started Belkins Van and Storage Co. The business began with the idea of helping immigrants store their belongings when they settled in America. The company expanded across southern California and continues to operate today.


Modern Self Storage

The type of self storage we have today, where a tenant has exclusive rights to a space, began in Florida in the 1950s. The first storage facility where the tenant had these rights was opened by the Collum family in Fort Lauderdale in 1958. By the 1960s, self storage was becoming more and more common. Russ Williams famously founded the ‘A1 U-Store-It’ business, after discovering the benefits of storing his fishing equipment.

It took 20 years for self storage to catch on in the UK. During the 1980s, expanding businesses started using self storage facilities to secure documents, stock and office equipment.

Since this period, the storage industry has steadily expanded both in the UK and across the globe. Storage is used by movers, small businesses, students and the elderly. With an estimated 1,997 self storage facilities in the UK alone, the industry continues to grow.

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