History of the Container

April 28, 2020

Read all about the fascinating history of the container, the core of our Containerships service.

For centuries people have shipped goods across the oceans, from point A to point B, one land to another. Before containerization people were sailing the world looking for new lands, treasures, trading food and bringing back jewels to their homelands.

However, the process was not easy. The loading and unloading of individual goods in barrels, sacks and wooden crates from land transport to ship and back again was slow, dangerous and very labor force-oriented. This process known as break-bulk shipping was the only known way to transport goods via ship until the second half of the 20th century.

In 1950 the shipping industry was changed forever. Trucker Malcolm McLean revolutionised the way we shipped goods when his intermodal shipping container idea from the previous decade came to light. The modern shipping container was born and this led to the development of the first quayside container in 1959, cutting transportation costs significantly. The was no need for repeated handling of individual pieces of cargo, reliability improved and cargo theft was reduced.

Malcolm McLean was born in North Carolina in 1913. He started very modestly as a service station manager but quickly turned out to be an entrepreneur of genius. McLean picked up an old truck to do the job himself and created his own transportation company. In 1935, he was only 22 years old but already employed nine drivers.

In 1953, when his company became one of the first of the sector in the United States, MacLean embarked on a new adventure. As coastal highways were increasingly bottled he proposed to bypass them by loading freight on boats between the east coast and Texas. To do this McLean took control of the small Pan-Atlantic shipping company, bought two oil ships for a morsel and then had them transformed so that they could carry containers. On April 26, 1956, 58 boxes were loaded aboard the former Ideal-X oil tanker in Newark, New Jersey and delivered to Houston five days later.

In less than a decade, the container system spread throughout the world because it allowed in addition to the optimisation of space on board ships an incredible time saving for handling operations. An international standardisation of the containers became in place.

It was not until the mid-1960s when the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) validated the current dimensions: 2.43 m in height, in width and four lengths, the two most common of which were 6.09 m (20 ft) and 12.19 m (40 ft).

The container celebrates its 65th birthday on the 26th April 2020. Today it is one of the indispensable tools of globalisation. Containers are now more technology oriented, thanks to plotters that gives you the location of your container in real time.

New opportunities are now to be discovered around the container. What will be the next innovations of the container? If you have any ideas, do not hesitate to share with us, maybe we will discover together a new revolution of containers.