The humble shipping container could be simply regarded by many as just a big steel box; but it is so much more than that. Those who understand its importance for global trade, associate the container as one of the most significant inventions in the world to date.
To learn why shipping containers are so important, we have to look at the history, and understand how a big steel box made such a big impact on international trade.
The idea of a steel container loaded with goods for easy transportation was thought up originally by an American man named Malcolm McLean. McLean was the owner of a trucking business in the United States of America, who after purchasing a steamship company wanted an easy method to transport goods from the truck to the ship.
The theory was that the vessel for storage itself needed to be transportable, not the goods within it. From this, the steel shipping container was born, and in 1956 Malcolm McLean invented and patented the container, and set about building his new product for the masses.
By using his Shipping Container Malcolm McLean was able to reduce the cost of loading and unloading cargo by over 90%, from $5.86 per tonne to load, to only $0.16 per tonne (based on on 1956 prices). The container was invented on the theory of intermodalism, which today is the key system behind high efficiency with global shipping.
The system of intermodalism allows for the same container which is loaded with goods at its starting location, to be transported via road, rail, and sea to the final destination without the goods needing to leave the container.
On 26th April 1956 the ‘Ideal X' was the first freighter to transport goods using McLean's new shipping containers. The ship transported 58 of the shipping containers from Newark to Houston. Shortly afterwards the first ship designed purely for carrying shipping containers the ‘Maxton', which could carry 60 shipping containers as deck cargo, was put into service.
In order to ensure that's McLeans new shipping containers could travel across the globe, and be handled at every port, it was necessary for the containers to be built to a specific standard and that every container built the world over met this exact specification. Eventually after many negotiations, an international standard was agreed the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) which set the shipping containers at lengths of 10', 20', 30' and 40', a width of 8', and a height of 8'6”.