Once upon a time in Mesopotamia...

If we journey back to their beginnings in the age of purchasing and procurement, their history begins right here: In one of the most important cultural development centers of the Ancient Near East. Archaeological finds provide clear evidence that an urban society already lived in the region between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers between 4,000 and 3,000 BC. On the one hand, monumental buildings bear witness to this, on the other hand, findings such as scroll seals, clay tablets and similar indicate a well-established administration. A clay tablet from the period between 3,200 and 3,000 BC exhibited in the "British Museum" in London, for example, documents beer deliveries.

 Such evidence of an early organization of procurement is also available from Egypt: Records evidence that procurement tasks were already systematically carried out in the country on the Nile around 3,000 BC. For example, during the construction of the pyramids of Giza (around 2,650 to 2,500 BC), individual occupational groups were already specifically tasked with recording the amount of work and materials on papyrus. In Europe, organized procurement took shape later. To be precise, around 215 BC, in ancient Rome. For the first time, contracts were formally negotiated between the Roman government and suppliers to ensure the supply of materials to the widely scattered troops of the Roman Empire.

 In Britain, the history of procurement dates back to William the Conqueror (1,028 to 1,087 AD), who was looking for a clear method to record his tax revenues. With the rise of the British Empire and its colonial aspirations, procurement also evolved to include goods and services.

Purchasing and procurement in the 18th century

In 1832, the English mathematician and philosopher Charles Babbage discussed the need for a so-called "Supply Man" in mining in his work "On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures". This "Supply Man" was supposed to be in charge of selecting, purchasing and tracking all goods needed for a project. Today we would say: Babbage proposed to hire a Chief Procurement Officer.

 In 1886, the Pennsylvania Railroad established the world's first procurement department because the complex, widely ramified railway system in the USA demanded new ways of procurement. Between 1914 and 1918, it was then the First World War that demanded a lot from purchasing and procurement: goods had to be transported around the world. Many purchases were made on an ad hoc basis - orders were placed by radio or telegraph.


In 1932, the supplier directory appeared for the first time as a book edition

In 1932, the book fair took place in Leipzig, where the supplier directory "Who Delivers What" was published as a printed edition for the first time. And for a good reason: purchasing and procurement, during World War I gained importance due to the development of the country. After the end of World War I, the German National Railway System alone ordered a total of 7,000 new locomotives to be delivered by 1925 to brings its fleet back to pre-war standards.  Many companies were looking for suppliers at that time and many suppliers were looking for customers. Thanks to the supplier directory "Who Delivers What", enterprises finally had printed documentation on hand that allowed them to search specifically for the suppliers they needed.

Supply chains and tenders gained importance.

In the 1950s, global governments pushed procurement forward. The importance of reliable "supply chains" was considered by many companies since it allowed them to grow in consistent quality. In the 1960s, purchasing and procurement became management tasks: tender submissions were introduced. In the 1970s, the "just in time" concept was rolled out in manufacturing by Toyota, the automaker, who introduced its new production system. At the same time, more and more enterprises were managing their procurement centrally.

Subsequently, one thing after another happened: The Internet and digitization gave purchasing and procurement a push it had never experienced before: In 1982, europages was founded in France (Original name: Euroedit) and it published the first printed business directory featuring suppliers from all over Europe.  Supplier directory "Who Delivers What" was published on CD-ROM for the first time in 1986.

 In the 1990s, an increasing number of companies recognized the importance of procurement - especially for government projects and in the heavy manufacturing industry. In the meantime, the networking of the world made huge steps forward.  "Who Delivers What" also aligned itself with this change and in 1995, two years before Google, appeared on www.wlw.de online for the first time. In the 2000s orders were already initiated by computers and the first ERP systems established themselves. At the time, europages was already available in 26 languages - and the website europages reached the record level of 2 million visitors from 218 countries as early as 2006. The era of the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) began around 2010: Many companies had "supply men" as previously proposed by Charles Babbage at their helm. Even these days, these CPOs have only one assignment: They are responsible for purchasing and the procurement of goods and materials.

The future is digital

From clay tablets to digital app: Procurement and purchasing never were as networked as they are today.  However, the purchasing route still has a long time to go to reach the finish line. Many procurement and operational purchasing processes are now largely digitized. Even now, the professionals are already using innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence or big data to be able to respond in real time. Augmented and virtual reality might in the future play an even more fundamental role to investigate location independent products and to make the best possible purchasing decision as a result. But there is one thing these technologies do not achieve: they cannot be a substitute for the personal relationships between buyers and sellers. And this is precisely what wlw and europages have been doing for many decades, bringing together what belongs together: today, around 3.6 million professional buyers from over 200 countries meet around 3 million suppliers of products and services every month on both platforms - since 2019 under the joint umbrella brand Visable.