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The History of Self Storage

I started working here at the Mobile Attic in Columbia, SC July of last year. In the time since I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of how the industry works. I have a good grasp of the types of people who use storage facilities, the competitive nature of the business, and the fact that even in a down economy the industry can continue to grow. Being in the storage industry can be great if you know what you’re doing. People are always moving and people will always have more stuff than they have room for. You could even say that in a down economy you should EXPECT the industry to be doing well. Between people moving to take new jobs and people having to move from large houses to smaller houses there are plenty of reasons why someone would need a storage unit during these times but I digress.

The reason for this post is because I am a curious person and I love history. I was tasked with writing a blog about storage and I thought, why not start at the beginning? I was curious as to when the industry became what

storage columbia, sc
1928 print ad about self storage

it is, the factors behind it, and the minds that made it happen. The beauty of the internet is that if you know how to search you can find the answers to just about anything… this however was tricky.

Based on what I was able find I saw that the concept of modern day self storage was first brought up in the late 20’s. It was being pitched as a way to make use of vacant lots. If you look closely at the picture on the right you’ll see the headline says “Make that Vacant lot Pay you a Handsome Profit!” The company that I got this information from Trachte Building Sytsems sold the idea to investors saying that the units could be used to store vehicles. Like a public garage. (Remember mass production of cars was still only 20 or so year’s old at this point. Production of the Model-T Ford stopped in 1927 at over 15 million made.) By 1925 it was noted that houses without garages were slow to sell but they had not yet become as standard as they are today. Though the concept was born in the 1920’s, it appears that self storage facilities didn’t start popping up until the late 1950’s.

Online I get two different answers as to where the first facilities were born. Some say the first was started in Texas in the “late 1950’s” while others say that Lauderdale Storage in Fort Lauderdale, FL which was started in 1958 (and is still running, the link in the name is to their site) was the first. Trachte didn’t end up getting into the industry themselves until the 1970’s and built one of the first “all steel” storage facilities.

Self Storage poster
Rainn Wilson in Self Storage

The business grew pretty slowly up through the 90’s when demand started to be greater than what the supply was. Between 2000 and 2005 there was a storage EXPLOSION with more than 3,000 new facilities popping up each year on average in the United States.

The short film “Self Storage” starring Rainn Wilson hit the theaters in 2002 and self storage shows up in many places throughout movies and television (Skylar White in the show Breaking Bad uses a storage facility to hide her husband Walter’s illegal stash of money) as it has become a mainstay in our society. I recently was drawn to the UK film “Storage 24” which is a Thriller set in a storage facility where a government plane crashes, spilling its classified contents throughout a town. The movie centers on the few people stranded inside a self storage facility where something that was on the plane begins to hunt them down. There is an American Horror film titled “Self Storage” set to release later this year as well starring Eric Roberts from “The Dark Knight,” Heroes, and The Young and The Restless. (You may have noticed that all of the movies are horror movies… I guess storage facilities can be a big creepy). I think you get the point.

The industry has changed as it has grown as facilities are becoming larger and larger, the features continue to improve, and the services continue to adapt.

 

Who knows what the future holds!

 

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