History of Logistics and Supply Chain Management

Here we will show you the true meaning of logistics and supply chain by addressing the simplest question: What is the History of Logistics and Supply Chain?


According to the article by Lummas and team in 2001, the word "Logistics" in English appeared in the article as early as 1898. Lots and lots of articles point to the fact that the logistics is from the French word "Logistique" which first appeared in the book "The Art of War" in 1838 by Baron Henri de Jomini who was the general in the French army during Napoleon's time.

The article by Frankel and the team in 2008 indicated that "supply chain" and "supply chain management" were first recognized in the 1980s. The article by Stock in 2009 said more specifically that most researchers believed the term "supply chain management" was introduced by Keith Oliver of Booz Allan Hamilton in 1982 in the Financial Times.

History of Logistics

The word "Logistics" began in January 1810 in the "Scots Magazine, and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany for January 1810".

On page 286, it said that Dr. William Muller, who was the first public instructor of military science at the University of Gottingen, planned to launch the book named "The Elements of the Art of War".  It was here that the word "Logistics" in the English language appeared for the first time.

Later, Muller changed his mind and called the book "The Elements of the Science of War" in 1811.

This book covered the tactics for Infantry (foot soldiers), Cavalry (soldiers on horseback), Artillery (soldiers with heavy weapons), and Pontonier (soldiers in charge of the construction of bridges). Muller explained in a very comprehensive manner how the "movement" of each type of soldier should be done, which included marching, transportation, wheeling, advancing, formation, transport of heavy guns, how to cross the river, etc.

History of Supply Chain

In 1905, The newspaper "The Independent" published the article that contained the word "Supply Chain" for the first time,

Since the publisher of this article is not part of the Google Books Project, only this screenshot is available for viewing. Anyway, the term "fortified pass" is a military term and this sentence was more likely to describe a war situation.

In early October 1912, Glasgow Herald (now Herald Scotland) dispatched a special correspondent to cover the news about the "Balkan War". On 14 October 1912, the news mentioned the word with better clarity as below,

Basically, the reporter explained the conditions of military deployment. As you may notice, the 100-year-old language is a bit difficult to understand, the order of the verb and nouns is different from modern English. Then, I've created the conceptual model of the news as below,

The basic idea is that troops traveled to a battlefield and en route there were many "supply chain" (resupply points). Here at resupply points, inventory was stored for up to 8 days. The phrase "the staff (Bulgarian) relies on the distance carrying them (supplies) from one centre... to another" is a bit tricky. According to the Free Dictionary, "distance" can also mean "the extent of progress". This implies that the army relied on the replenishment progress or procurement process.

Logistics vs Supply Chain Management

The difference between the 2 terms has been very confusing for most people. The article by Larson and team in 2007 indicated that, based on a literature review, there are 4 types of interaction as below,

- Traditionalist: practitioners with the traditional view sees SCM as part of logistics.

- Re-labeling: the job title "logistics analyst" will become a "supply chain analyst" if companies feel SCM is the new term for logistics.

- Unionist:  many researchers believe that SCM is an inter-organizational process/collaboration, while logistics and customer service are within the corporate function.

- Intersectionist: many practitioners feel both terms are 2 different things with some overlapping scope.


Based on a historical perspective, a conclusion can be drawn about the logistics and supply chain management that,
- Both "logistics" and "supply chain" share the same root in military operations management (not one from the military and the other from the industrial or manufacturing context).

- Logistics implies the movement of troops and Supply Chain implies the resupply points in military operations.

- Then, both terms can't live without one another. Imagine bread without butter, nuts without bolts or Tom without Jerry, what it's going to be?

- Supply Chain doesn't have to be the only inter-organizational issue. It can be any point within the same organization.

- Supply chain practitioners should also be aware of neighboring disciplines like lean manufacturing and six sigma.

Taking these facts into account, this article has provided a clear and concise definition as below,

Logistics is about Movement or Flow or Arc(s) and Supply Chain is about Resupply Points or Points or Nodes

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for Google Books and Google News which spent their resources to digitize valuable books/news archives. Also, it won't be possible without the vision of the Harvard University Library, Raymond A. Whitwer Tilden Public Library in Nebraska, and the Library of Pennsylvania State University who preserve the books (Scots Magazine, and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany for January 1810, The Elements of the Science of War and The Independent Volume 58).

- Lummus, R. R., Krumwiede, D. W., & Vokurka, R. J. (2001). The relationship of logistics to supply chain management: developing a common industry definition. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 101(8), 426-432.

- Jomini, A. H. (1838). Summary of the Art of War. JD Hittle övers.). I: Roots of Strategy Book, 2.

- Frankel, R., Bolumole, Y. A., Eltantawy, R. A., Paulraj, A., & Gundlach, G. T. (2008). The domain and scope of SCM's foundational disciplines—insights and issues to advance research. Journal of Business Logistics, 29(1), 1-30.

- Stock, J. R. (2009). A research view of supply chain management: Developments and topics for exploration. Orion, 25(2).

- Larson, P. D., Poist, R. F., & Halldórsson, Á. (2007). Perspectives on logistics vs. SCM: a survey of SCM professionals. Journal of Business Logistics, 28(1), 1-24.

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Last review and update: July 5, 2022
About the Author and Editor:
Ben Benjabutr is the author and editor of Supply Chain Opz. He holds an M.Sc. in Logistics Management with 10+ years of experience. You can contact him via e-mail or Twitter.