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IFA Air Freight

How John Emery Sr. Revolutionized the Domestic Airfreight Industry

Ecommerce is expected to be a $1 trillion industry by the end of 2022.

As eCommerce continues to grow, the need for safe and adequate transportation of products also continues to grow. And here is where freight forwarding comes in.

Freight forwarders are essential middlemen in the journey of commercial and industrial goods to end users. Forwarders connect shippers with different modes of transportation, from rail to air to sea, to ensure the cargo arrives at its final destination.

But Freight Forwarding was not always seen as an essential industry. It was an obscure concept in the mid-1940s and one that was even looked down upon by the heavyweight air freight carriers of the time.

Enter John Colvin Emery, Sr., Founder of Emery Worldwide, who had the experience and the vision to make Freight Forwarding a global industry and revolutionize the concept for an ever-accelerating on-demand economy.

Looking to get in the same industry? Then continue reading to learn all about the man considered a freight forwarding pioneer. And the vision behind one of the biggest industry leaders for over half a century.

Who Is John Colvin Emery, Sr.?

John Emery is the man behind one of the biggest freight forwarding companies in the United States and possibly worldwide: Emery Worldwide Airlines.

Born in Missouri in 1902 to a clipper shipbuilder and sailor, Emery was destined for the transportation industry. He even worked as an assistant to Joseph Eastman, Federal Coordinator of Transportation before joining the Railway Express Agency or REA.

At REA, he worked closely with the Navy. His main task was a contract where he arranged for REA to supply trucking services to the Navy.

However, once the war started, the Navy had a proposal for him. They needed a new transportation department that would arrange for the forwarding of cargo to various destinations.

As Lt. and executive commander of the Navy’s Transportation Division, Emery was arranging for the safe transportation of cargo like blood to jungle hospitals.

With the arrival of the C-54 in the 1930s; a four-engine plane, Emery and his team had to come up with special packaging and crafting for their cargo. And devise a control system that ensured the cargo was transported safely in the distribution line.

John Emery and the Airfreight Industry

Once he left the Navy, Mr. Emery had a new idea for REA. Freight Forwarding. But REA was not interested.

Emery, believing this would revolutionize the industry, decided to go out on his own and started Emery Air Freight Corporation. So with a few friends, $285 000, and experience from the Navy, Emery Worldwide was born in 1946.

In the same year, the former lieutenant’s freight forwarding company became the first of its kind to apply for a license from the Civil Aeronautics Board to become an Indirect Air Carrier utilizing his own Emery Airfreight AWB’s. Emery was the first in the USA to create Air Consolations using Master and House Airway Bills.

But the company had to wait until 1948 to receive its license due to objects from airlines who saw it as a direct competitor.

This did not dissuade Emery. Through innovative growth, by the mid-1950s, Emery had 30 branches in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Emery kept costs and debt at a minimum by not owning or operating airplanes and only leasing the trucking equipment it needed.  During that time, Emery was hauling 14,000 tons of freight annually and generating $7.2 million in revenue. Emery’s success lie in the fact that by nimbly maneuvering through freight logistics, the company could avoid transportation bottlenecks and bring customers goods with breakneck speed. 


Vintage Emery Air Freight Ad

Emery expanded outside of the US in 1956, invariably helping global economies connect in ways unfathomably only a few short years before.

Personal Life

There is not much available on Emery Worldwide’s founder John Emery Sr.’s personal or family life. He did have a son, John, Jr. who followed in his father’s footsteps and took over the company after his death in 1969.

Where Is Emery Worldwide today?

After its first international expansion in 1956, Emery stayed a leader in the industry. You couldn’t spell international shipping without Emery. 

With revenues of $142 million in 1972 and $175 million in 1973, it was a shipping force to be reckoned with.  Emery even employed a fleet of bicycles, maneuvering the busy streets of big cities. 

But it was also during this time that new regulations and fuel prices began to dent the airline industry.  Emery countered by using alternate carriers in an “Air Taxi” service, providing unconventional deliveries on-demand.  It also concentrated its efforts in its overnight services, seeing, correctly, this speed in delivery as a wave of the future.

Despite the company’s 1970s successes, it was the beginning of the end.  In 1975 a newcomer to the shipping industry was founded, Federal Express.  Emery, renaming itself Emery Worldwide, decided to compete with the new company directly and throw its hat into the ring of small package delivery.

But this required millions in initial investments, buying instead of leasing essential airplanes and equipment, going against its tried-and-true business model.  Emery took on $130 million of long-term debt, more than 60 percent of the company’s total capital.  This, and a series of managerial mistakes from John Emery Jr. had Emery soon on the brink of bankruptcy. Even with a series of revival attempts from Consolidated Freightways, the company shut down in 2001. 

Today, however, the company is alive and profit-making under UPS, the United Postal Service.

But you can still learn his skills.

Emery and International Shipping

Through its ups and downs, one thing is for sure: Emery Worldwide is here to stay. Although Emery Worldwide is no longer within the Emery family, John’s contributions to forwarding shaped the industry as we know it.

Are you ready to get into the industry yourself? Or are you just looking for training for your team? The International Forwarding Academy can help.

At International Forwarding Academy, you will work with a group of forwarding experts with industry experience to back them.

Contact us to learn how our courses can help equip your employees.