EVANSVILLE, (Ind.) - What do porpoises, polar ice cap samples, and space shuttle parts have in common? They've all been moved by Atlas Van Lines at some point in the company's 50-year history. This month, Atlas Van Lines celebrates its 50th anniversary with an all-day celebration May 19 at its world headquarters on St. George Road in Evansville, Indiana. Evansville Mayor Frank McDonald has proclaimed May 19 "Atlas Van Lines Appreciation Day."
What began in 1948 as a fledging group of 33 movers scattered throughout the United States and coordinated by a three-person dispatch office on a cobblestone street in Chicago is today a giant in the moving industry. With some 600 agents across the U.S. and Canada, and over 800 worldwide, Atlas is the nation's fourth largest carrier of household goods and now ranks 450 on the list of Forbes Magazine's top 500 private companies. Atlas Van Lines (Canada) Ltd. Is Canada's second largest mover.
The company was born out of a 1947 meeting in French Lick, Indiana, where some entrepreneurial-minded movers conceived the idea of a van line owned and operated by agents themselves. One of the original agents was Shetler Moving & Storage of Evansville, whose owner Thomas J. Shetler is still an Atlas agent today and a member of the company's Board of Directors.
Atlas was incorporated on May 1948 and acquired operating authority for 37 states and the District of Columbia. The young company closed its first year with revenues totaling $365,000. By comparison, Atlas Van Lines had generated $62.9 million by the end of 1997. In the same year, consolidated revenue for Atlas World Group, the van line's holding company, was $490 million. In the early years, business grew rapidly - revenue approached $5 million in 1957. But competition was fierce, particularly competition for good workers, who were in short supply in Chicago.
Consequently, Atlas decided to relocate its headquarters to Indiana, known as "the crossroads of America." After 10 years of being housed in offices surrounded by city streets, Atlas moved in 1960 to a sprawling new suburban compound in Evansville, Indiana, a location with favorable tax rates and a large labor pool of qualified workers.
The move was good news to Evansville, which was in an economic slump at the time. Several major employers, including International Harvester and Chrysler, had closed their doors. The arrival of Atlas heralded the beginning of an economic rebirth of the midwestern city.
The 1970s and 1980s were a time of mergers and acquisitions, all of which had a major positive impact on Atlas' business. In fact, the company more than doubled in size during the 10 years since first moving to Evansville.
In 1980, the company became publicly held, with its agents retaining majority interest, and company shares were traded on the American Stock Exchange. Just four years later, in 1984, Atlas averted a hostile takeover by securing Wesray, Inc. of Morristown, New Jersey to purchase a controlling interest in the company. But because morale and profits had slowly deteriorated under Wesray ownership, Atlas returned to agent ownership in 1989 - a structure unique in the moving industry - and 88 agents from 32 states became stockholders.
"Agent ownership is a definite advantage for Atlas," said Wally Saubert, Atlas chairman and chief executive officer. "It allows us to be operated, directed, and owned by a board of directors who understand exactly what is occurring in the marketplace, because they are out there, day in and day out. As a result of agent ownership, our customers get excellent service, our agents and drivers profit, and the van line continues to grow in a very competitive environment."
In 1997, the country's largest van line group, Atlantic (formerly Atlantic northAmerican), joined forces with Atlas Van Lines to become the largest agency group within Atlas. Now known as Atlantic Relocation Systems, the agency brought to Atlas a network of 11 agencies located in eight states, a vehicle fleet of 600 units, and more than 600 employees.
Also, in 1997, Bekins Northwest, the largest mover in the Pacific Northwest, became an Atlas agent. Bekins operates in five states with 11 locations and a fleet of more than 250 vans.
"As we look toward the year 2000, our goal is to become the largest and highest quality agent-owned moving and storage system in the United States," Saubert added.