In 1965, Yale University undergraduate Frederick W. Smith wrote a term paper about the passenger route systems used by most airfreight shippers, which he viewed as economically inadequate. Smith explained the need for shippers to have a system designed specifically for airfreight that could accommodate time-sensitive shipments such as medicine, computer parts, and electronics.
A few years later, his term paper came to life when the company he started, Federal Express, incorporated in June 1971. It officially began operations on April 17, 1973, with the launch of 14 small aircraft from Memphis International Airport. On that night, they delivered 186 packages to 25 U.S. cities from Rochester, New York, to Miami, Florida.
For its headquarters, the company chose Memphis, Tennessee, thanks to the city’s central location. Another factor was the Memphis weather, which rarely caused closures at Memphis International Airport. The airport was also willing to make the necessary improvements for the operation and had additional hangar space readily available.
Though the company did not show a profit until July 1975, it soon became the marketplace’s premier carrier of high-priority goods and the standard-setter for the industry it established.
In the mid-1970s, Federal Express took a leading role in lobbying for air cargo deregulation. Those efforts came to fruition in 1977, allowing Federal Express to use larger aircraft such as Boeing 727s and McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s and spurring the company’s rapid growth. In a 24-hour period, the fleet travels nearly 500,000 miles, while its carriers log 2.5 million miles each day.
The company matured during the first half of the 1980s as its growth rate compounded at an annual clip of around 40 percent. In fiscal year 1983 Federal Express reported $1 billion in revenues, making American business history as the first company to reach that financial hallmark inside 10 years of startup without mergers or acquisitions.
Following the first of several international acquisitions, intercontinental operations began in 1984 with service to Europe and Asia. The following year, Federal Express began its first regularly scheduled flight to Europe. In 1988, the company initiated direct-scheduled cargo service to Japan and acquired Tiger International Inc. less than a year later. With the integration of the Flying Tigers network in August 1989, Federal Express became the world’s largest full-service, all-cargo airline. The acquisition included routes to 21 countries, a fleet of 747s and 727s, facilities throughout the world, and Tigers’ international airfreight expertise.
A 1995 acquisition from Evergreen International Airlines provided authority to serve China — and made the growing company the sole U.S.-based, all-cargo carrier with aviation rights to the world’s most populous nation.
The first evolution of the company’s corporate identity came in 1994 when Federal Express officially adopted “FedEx” as its primary brand, taking a cue from its customers, who frequently referred to the company by the shortened name.
The second evolution came in 2000 when the company was renamed FedEx Express to reflect its position in the overall FedEx Corp. portfolio of services. This also signified the expanding breadth of the service offerings specific to FedEx Express, as well as further positioning FedEx as an express carrier.
FedEx Express has continued to evolve and expand over the course of the first decades of the 21st century. In 2008, it introduced fuel-efficient Boeing 757 freighters to its fleet and began using them on a new cargo service route between Memphis and Washington, D.C. The moves marked the opening of a new route for FedEx and a demonstration of the company’s commitment to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
It took a similar step in 2013 when it added Boeing 767-300F planes to its fleet. The 767s are 30 percent more fuel efficient and have 20 percent lower unit operating costs than the aircraft they replaced. In a similar vein, the company launched more than 30 initiatives to improve fuel efficiency and cut fuel emissions, including improvements to in-flight planning and boosting aircraft operation efficiencies.
In 2016, FedEx acquired TNT Express, the largest acquisition in FedEx history. TNT expands the FedEx portfolio by adding more than 50,000 team members and over 30,000 vehicles. It significantly enhances the FedEx Express road network in Europe, as well as the company’s presence in parts of the Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific, and the Americas.
Go to the FedEx Corporate Brochure to see how FedEx Express and other FedEx operating companies come together to connect the world — serving our customers, our communities and our team members.