Most companies celebrate big birthdays like a century with big public ceremonies, but UPS, the old United Parcel Service, marked its 100th anniversary quietly and perhaps a little bit oddly. The company, which operates one of the largest all-freighter air fleets in the world, gave each of its 420,000 employees a small bar, about three inches long, made from the melted-down airframe of the first aircraft it bought for its fleet back in 1981. The 727, N907UP, flew from the UPS hub at Louisville, Kentucky, where the carrier bases its North American operations.
The little bars, about three inches long, weigh about two ounces each and have a quote from early UPS executives. The company started out in Seattle a century ago as a bicycle-messenger and delivery service that focused first on written messages and documents for its traffic base. Now a major shipper of overnight documents and of heavier cargo, it is based near Atlanta and as one of the two biggest deliverers of Internet-shopping purchases, it is one of the major beneficiaries of the web. Its celebration is a revealing insight to the UPS culture: it is focused on its employees, not the outside world, and on its internal history, rather than the public. After all, this is a company that resisted advertising for years and had no Washington lobbyists for decades. Interestingly as well, its anniversary website is designed for its own family, and invites UPSers to make postings and other contributions.
(Scholars may point out that it ran an air operation back in 1929, putting packages on scheduled flights, but that unit, United Air Express, did not survive that year’s stock market crash and the great depression that followed. United Parcel Service resumed air service in 1953, but didn’t start its own airline until almost 30 years later.) Now, with over 600 aircraft in its fleet, it’s the eighth largest airline in the world and a pioneer in air-traffic control technology and aircraft noise and emissions management. UPS now owns 47% of its fleet, leasing the rest, and just took its first 747-400.