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The History of Shipping Containers

People have been shipping cargo around the world for thousands of years, and the logistics of loading, unloading, and reloading goods, has always proved to be costly, time consuming and inefficient. The huge increase in the amount of cargo during the 20th century meant that solutions had to be found for the problems of cargo handling, and this drive towards greater efficiency and cost effectiveness led to the development of the intermodal freight networks that crisscross the globe. The key to the development of the most efficient cargo handling system ever conceived, however, was the invention of the shipping container. Contrary to popular belief, the shipping container wasn’t invented by the Chinese. In fact, the first shipping container design was patented in America by Malcolm McLean1 in 1956. McLean was the owner of the fifth largest trucking company in the United States, and he saw the truck loading and unloading process as being costly because of its inefficiency. This led to his development of pre-loadable containers that could be set onto trucks as a unit, considerably reducing handling time, and therefore costs. Early attempts at developing this into a standardized system for freight handling were unsuccessful until the U.S. Navy… read more »