Shipping containers are so common and widely used that it is hard to remember a time when they were not being used since it is woven into the fabric of our lives. Shipping containers are loaded onto ships and loaded off ships then placed on trucks and trains for further transport to various destinations. Just about everything that we use or buy comes from overseas, shipping in a shipping container. Before shipping containers were used freight was moved manually as cargo from pick up from factory to ship then from a ship to the warehouse. There were plenty of issues with this type of handling from delays, extra costs, extra time, and none of the transportation methods were reliable. Shipping containers were initially used with trains and horse-drawn transport in the UK. Around 1830 railroads started to carry containers with the US Army using containers in WWII to distribute supplies.
Invention and First Use
Malcolm Mclean was a transport entrepreneur who invented and created the first shipping container which was designed for intermodal transport. The container was designed in 1956 when 58 trailer vans were loaded onto a tanker ship which had been refitted and were shipped from New Jersey to Texas. This revolutionized modern trade in the 20th century and the rest, as they say, is history.
Prior to 1956 – Shipping Containers
The risk, expense and sheer frustration involved with shipping merchandise over the ocean was holding back the international economy for decades. Even though the steam engine was in use it was difficult to load cargo with the assorted sizes of packages so that the loads were safe and easy to access. There were also many risks involved including damage to product, theft, delays, and loss. Early intermodal containers were used on railroads in the 1830s.
In the Beginning… 1956 – 1960
Once McLean unleashed the new design for shipping containers, there were many firsts that occurred from 1956 until shipping containers became international and then began to transverse the oceans. Container fleets have been expanding since the 1960s with great demands for goods from overseas. Shipping containers have historically had other uses too. In 1962 a patent was filed to utilize shipping containers as touring exhibition booths.
The 1970s – Rapid Growth
Once it was proven that shipping containers were a viable option for the transport of goods, the shipping industry started to grow very quickly. By 1973 European, Asian and US markets started carrying more than 4 million TEUs. In the early 1970s an architect from the UK wrote a these about the conversion of shipping containers into dwellings fit for habitation. In 1977 Malcolm McLean teamed up with the Southern Pacific Railroad to construct a double stack train car. In 1979 shipping between continents was all done with shipping containers.
The 1980s – 90% of Countries have Ports
In 1966 only 90% of countries had container ports but by 1980 90% of countries had container ports. At that point, containers ships are transporting over 12 million TEUs and trade routes extend to Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. One of the world’s largest shopping malls was constructed in 1989 from shipping containers in Odessa in the Soviet Union.
Malcolm McLean develops a new container ship business model with jumbo containers ships providing service to the world, lower costs and improving service. By 1985 an electronic Bill of Lading Registry was created, and it was called Sea-Docs. More than 100 double stack container trains are in operation in the US by 1989, each over a mile long.
The 1990s – Global Trade Skyrockets
There are many more types of goods being traded by the 1990s and more manufacturing is being transferred to developing economies. The Chinese economy is developing quickly and helps millions of Chinese out of poverty. A BBC television series in 1994 was created around the conversion of shipping containers to be used for office space.
In 1990 a study is conducted to isolate the impact of shipping containers on trade. It is believed that containerization has increased trade growth by 790%, which is substantially more than free trade agreements or GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades) membership.
In 1991 the Canary Wharf buildings located in London’s Docklands is opened which had been the largest seaport in the world to be closed to shipping in 1969. Urban renewal is seen where dock lands become vacant as ports are enlarged and become fewer. Six out of ten of the largest ports in the world are in Asia and the per capita growth of China is increased as much as 13% during the 1990s. Economies in developing countries are now able to exploit the container supply chains.
The 2000s – Innovation and Growth
As the international supply chains become inclusive and intricate, they support the growth of ecommerce. The first residential shipping container complex was completed in 2001 in the UK. Malcolm McLean died in 2001 at the age of 87. His livelong achievements are recognized in the Maritime Hall of Fame and American Heritage and Fortune magazines. In 2008 the new styles of containers are introduced including the 4Fold foldable container, the Staxxon fold and nest container, the Cakeboxx doorless container and the Ferrini lightweight collapsible container. This new generation of shipping containers reduces the cost of carrying empty shipping containers and offer the ability to maximise load space on ships.
In today’s world, ninety percent of the world’s trade is shipped over the ocean using 700 million shipping containers annually. American shipping ports received 1.73 trillion in goods in 2014. Freight Farms established the first use of containers for agriculture in 2010. These containers are also used for disaster relief. Google built a boat valued at 35 million using shipping containers and containers servers made of shipping containers to power Google’s searches.
By 2011, shipping containers have changed the world’s economic make up with China passing Japan and becoming the world’s second largest economy. China overtakes the US economy in 2014. In the year 2017 remote tracking systems utilized in shipping containers expands to over one million.
Shipping containers are ideal for so many amazing uses from tiny homes to storage options, these are affordable and easy to obtain.