The History of Shipping Containers

Posted : 03/7/13 4:04 AM

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 adopted the system, after which there was a general global acceptance of the intermodal freight model from the early 1970s. Since that time, the shipping container has continued to evolve with an ISO standard size being agreed upon to standardize the handling of containers worldwide. Other developments include the introduction of new standard container sizes that are designed specifically for ocean transport. The introduction of the 53 foot container in 19832 has a 60% greater capacity than a standard ISO shipping container, and allows shippers to consolidate a greater amount of cargo into every shipment, which in turn further increases the efficiency of the transport method overall. More modern developments have made shipping containers more secure and easier to track through the use of ISO reporting marks, which carry coded information about the owner that can be traced from anywhere in the world. In recent years, the sturdiness of these ubiquitous boxes has made them become popular for uses outside of shipping, with many people buying them to use for storage or for sheds, and in some cases, even making houses out of them. The use of technology like GPS is further developing the efficiency of using shipping containers, and continues to develop intermodal freight as the most efficient way to transport most goods around the world today. References: