The 11-year-old boy’s dream that became Louisville’s single-biggest private employer

UPS Worldport
UPS started its hub at Louisville International Airport in 1982.

Boulevard focuses on news about some of Louisville’s biggest employers, nonprofits, and cultural institutions. This is one in an occasional series about them.

The first time many people in Louisville heard of United Parcel Service was in a May 1938 issue of The Courier-Journal, when syndicated columnist Dale Carnegie wrote about 11-year-old James E. Casey walking down a sidewalk in Seattle, and catching sight of a Special Delivery wagon pulled by a team of high-stepping horses.

James Casey
Casey in an undated photo.

“I’m going to have a team of horses and deliver things for people,” Casey said that day in 1899, in Carnegie’s retelling. Casey eventually started the American Messenger Co. with seven boys delivering packages by bicycle.

By the time Carnegie’s column appeared, the company was called United Parcel Service and employed 2,500 employees delivering as many as 500,000 packages a day during the Christmas rush.

Nearly 80 years later, UPS has become a giant in shipping worldwide, with Louisville the heart of a global network of 12 major air hubs. It employs 22,000 workers at the Worldport hub at Louisville International Airport. It’s the biggest fully automated package handling facility in the world, according to UPS. It turns over approximately 130 aircraft daily, processing an average of 1.6 million packages a day, with a record of nearly 5 million packages processed on peak day 2013.

(If it was a city, Worldport would rank as Kentucky’s 17th biggest by population — one rung ahead of Radcliff in Hardin County.)

UPS has had a hub in Louisville since 1982, when it was expanding into air service to meet growing demand for faster delivery. Louisville was a logical choice because it’s centrally located in the U.S. Since then, it’s been through two $1 billion expansions here. Driven by growing demand for e-commerce, especially via Amazon, UPS announced plans in May 2016 to spend another $300 million to boost capacity.

This time-lapse video shows some of the activity that takes place during each sort.

Founder Casey died in 1983, at age 95. Today, UPS is headquartered in Atlanta. Its $58 billion in revenue last year ranked it No. 48 on the Fortune 500 list of biggest companies. Worldwide, it has 440,000 employees. It’s been a publicly traded company since November 1999. David Abney has been chairman and CEO since 2014.

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