All About Containers: A History of Shipping Containers

Today, shipping containers contribute most of what makes the transportation of goods possible. 90% of global trade occurs over sea by around 700 million containers every year. With such a huge impact on the entire world, it’s hard to believe that shipping containers haven’t been around forever. In fact, shipping containers didn’t gain global popularity until the 1970s.

Who was the genius behind shipping containers, and how did he turn his idea into an invention that changed the world? Here is a brief history of the object that we love: the shipping container.

In the beginning

Before shipping containers, cargo took weeks to load and unload. Goods were kept in a warehouse until a ship came to bear them to their location. Dozens of dock workers labored for days, or even weeks, to pack the cargo onto the ship.

Goods were packed in crates of different sizes, leading to haphazard loading and creative packing of items. Since goods often sat on the dock waiting to be loaded, thievery abounded. At best, the system was ineffective, and at worst, it was dangerous.

Enter Malcom McLean. In 1934, he launched a trucking transport service which quickly took off. He became frustrated with the extremely delayed loading times. Attempting to expedite the process, he came up with a plan to create a system which would allow dock workers to take the container directly off the truck and onto the ship without having to unload the individual goods.

Thus, the shipping container was born.

The shipping container goes mainstream

In 1955, McLean bought a steamship company with the goal of implementing his brainchild. By 1956, his idea, called the fitting system, proved a success when his system brought loading costs to $0.16 per ton from $5.86 per ton. From there, the use of the shipping container skyrocketed.

1966 saw the first transatlantic shipping container service, which led to the necessity of international standards in 1968 – 1970. With these standards, the shipping container industry flourished through the ‘70s.

By the ‘80s, 90% of countries had container ports, and the shipping container concreted itself in the shipping industry.

Alternative uses of the shipping container

It wasn’t difficult to conceive creative uses of the shipping container. The uniform design means that you can apply the same model to many different shipping containers, and the sturdy materials, designed to withstand even the worst weather, offer a cheap, yet durable, shelter.

The 1970s heard the first mention of making shipping containers into small living spaces. However, mainstream popularity of this idea didn’t come about until 1994 when the BBC aired a docuseries about people converting containers into office spaces.

Since then, shipping containers have been used for many different purposes. Beyond living spaces and offices, containers are now used for shipping agriculture, as storage units, for personal moving, and more. With such a straightforward design, the shipping container has truly become a staple in our day-to-day lives.

At Simple Box, we’ve harnessed the power of the shipping container in order to fulfill the various needs of our customers. Whether you need office space, storage, help with moving, or more, we will set you up with one of these world-changing tools, from delivery to pickup. Additionally, we have donated multiple storage boxes to different charities, including a box that was converted into a hydroponic chamber for farming.

Discover the magic of the shipping container for yourself, and check out what you can accomplish.


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