History of Containerization
Modern container shipping celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006. Almost from the first voyage, use of this method of transport for goods grew steadily and in just five decades, containerships would carry about 60% of the value of goods shipped via sea.
The idea of using some type of shipping container was not completely novel. Boxes similar to modern containers had been used for combined rail- and horse-drawn transport in England as early as 1792. The US government used small standard-sized containers during the Second World War, which proved a means of quickly and efficiently unloading and distributing supplies. However, in 1955, Malcom P. McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, USA, bought a steamship company with the idea of transporting entire truck trailers with their cargo still inside. He realized it would be much simpler and quicker to have one container that could be lifted from a vehicle directly on to a ship without first having to unload its contents.
His ideas were based on the theory that efficiency could be vastly improved through a system of "intermodalism", in which the same container, with the same cargo, can be transported with minimum interruption via different transport modes during its journey. Containers could be moved seamlessly between ships, trucks and trains. This would simplify the whole logistical process and, eventually, implementing this idea led to a revolution in cargo transportation and international trade over the next 50 years.
Before Container Shipping
People have been trading with each other, even between nations and across oceans, for thousands of years - long before containerization. How did they do that?
The Birth of "Intermodalism"
Intermodalism is a system that is based on the theory that efficiency will be vastly improved when the same container, with the same cargo, can be transported with minimum interruption via different transport modes from an initial place of receipt to a final delivery point many kilometers or miles away. That means the containers would move seamlessly between ships, trucks and trains. Learn more.
Buyers and sellers of goods recognized the potential of container shipping very early on, and the international standards for container size agreed to in 1961 paved the way for containerships to be used to transport goods between countries. Learn more.
See additional references about the history of containerization.