Martin Bekins was the founder of, what was eventually to become, Bekins Van Lines, in Sioux City, Iowa in 1891. At the present time, Bekins Van Lines remains one of the largest moving companies serving the United States and Canada, and providing moving services to international locations. Three brothers of Martin, John, Taeke and Daniel, also became involved in the Bekins moving operation, but Martin remained the chief executive of the firm during its initial developmental growth.
Martin was the fifth child, one out of a household of 13 children, of Sjoerd and Triertje Bekius. Sjoerd had emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States in the mid nineteenth century, and had settled in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. It is there that Sjoerd Bekius met Triertje, also of Dutch background. The couple married, and then settled on a farm near Grand Rapids.
Martin left the farm in 1880, and moved to the city of Grand Rapids, where he decided to change his name to Martin Bekins. He became a teamster driving freight wagons during the day, and at night he went to school to catch up on his education, which probably had been minimal while he lived on the farm. He also got his brother John to come and join him in Grand Rapids, where his brother also became a teamster.
With the experience derived from being involved in the freight business, Martin decided to go into business himself. He probably felt that the competition was too keen in Grand Rapids, and moved to Sioux City, Iowa, another large Dutch immigrant community, and started a furniture moving business with three horse drawn wagons, 12 employees and a warehouse. His brother John also joined him in the business. During the next 15 years, the moving firm opened offices in Omaha, Nebraska, Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois. To be able to provide intercity moving services, it was necessary to have local operations, or at least agents, in those cities that were served by the moving firm. The local operation would collect a load of furniture, pack it, and then have it shipped by train to the destination city, where it would be picked up by the Bekins local mover or its agent, who then delivered it to the home of the furniture’s owners.
In 1903, Bekins was the first moving firm on the west coast to use motor trucks replacing the traditional horse-drawn wagons. It operated two of the trucks, out of only 700 then in existence in the entire country. However, it would not be until the end of World War II that horse-drawn wagons would be completely phased out by the Bekins firm.
During the 1920’s, Bekins opened local operations in most major California locations, including Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, West Hollywood, and Pasadena. Most of its moving operations during that time were focused on the west coast, although operations established at other locations also remained in business. By this time Bekins had also developed the porto-van, a predecessor to container shipping. The porto-van made moving between cities much easier. The porto-van would be loaded by a local mover in one city, then transported by rail to the destination city. The local mover in the destination city would then pick up the porto-van and deliver it to the home of the owners of the furniture. For locations where Bekins had no local operation it would sub-contract with local movers.
Some organizational changes occurred along the way. In 1918, Martin Bekins’ children, Milo, Reed, Floyd and Ruth took over the company, and installed Milo Bekins as its president. It was this group of the Bekins clan, including the following generation, that would remain in charge of the American operations of Bekins. In 1940, the American operations of Bekins took on the name of Bekins Van Lines. Separately, in 1903, Martin Bekins’ younger brother, Daniel, had established Bekins Northwest by opening an office with associated operations in Seattle, Washington. In 1924, Daniel opened the company’s first Canadian operation by establishing an office in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In 1935, Daniel Bekins, nearing retirement, put his five sons in charge of Bekins Northwest, including the Canadian operations.
Bekins, both the American and the Canadian operations, expanded from just moving firms, to transportation specialist for many different products. Bekins became heavily involved with Hollywood, and supplied its transportation expertise for the distribution of films, and also for the transportation needs for film making at distant locations.
In the 1990’s, Bekins expanded to provide logistics services for storage, distribution and delivery of large manufacturers. For instance one of its customers was Eastman Kodak. It took over the entire transportation, delivery, warehousing, inventory control, installation and billing operations for Kodak’s high end copiers and printers. The transportation industry had changed. It had evolved from strictly transporting goods to being responsible for the timely delivery of specific products including the various activities described above. And it appears that it was in that area that Bekins future lay. But for the average citizen Bekins is still visible in most urban areas by its moving vans clearly marked with the Bekins name. It was Martin Bekins who founded this American and Canadian mover back in 1880.
Bekins History, http://www.bekins.com/moving/Bekins-History
EDC Movers – Bekins History, http://www.edc-mover.com/bekins_history.htm (link no longer available)
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PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS, CURRENT AND HISTORIC
EIGHT PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE ROOSEVELTS, VANDERBILTS AND OTHERS, 2015
FIFTEEN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE VAN BURENS, KOCH BROTHERS, VOORHEES AND OTHERS, 2015
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS IN U.S. GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP POSITIONS, 2015
DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015