Before 1956, goods used to be loaded onto ships and offloaded directly one piece at a time, which was very slow.
One man, Malcom Maclean, noticed this problem and solved it by inventing the shipping container. A few improvements have been made since then to create the present day ISO container.
At the moment, about 90% of global trade is carried by sea with shipping containers playing a major part. It’s estimated that at any one time there are about six million containers being transported around the world on ships, trucks, and train. Most of these originate from China – where most of the world’s goods (and the containers themselves) are manufactured.
Of these, only a small fraction will be transported back to their port of origin for re-use due to high relocation costs which leads to the “abandonment” of shipping containers in their places of delivery. This phenomenon has made shipping containers abundantly available at low costs virtually everywhere in the world.
Cargo containers were first used in the 1950s when they were initially developed for the purpose of commercial shipping. A shipping owner named Malcolm McLean worked closely with an engineer named Keith Tantlinger to develop what we commonly recognise today as shipping containers….
The first intermodal container system was developed and coined Container Express, later shortened to ConEx which became an easily recognizable abbreviation in the United States of America.
Malcolm McLean used a converted World War II tanker called the Ideal X on April 26, 1956 to transport 58 metal container boxes and 15,000 tons of bulk petroleum from Port Newark to Houston, Texas. It took six days for the voyage and once the ship arrived in the Port of Houston there were already orders coming in for the ship to take goods back to Port Newark.
McLean’s company, Sea-Land Services was soon seeing some competition from the Matson Navigation Company. The ship “Hawaiian Merchant” successfully transported 20 containers from Alameda to Honolulu in 1958. Matson Navigation constructed a ship called the Hawaiian Citizen in 1960 and then a company called Sea-Land constructed a ship called “Gateway City” which made its maiden voyage on October 4, 1957 from Port Newark to Miami. Cargo was being moved at the rate of 264 tons per hour with two gangs of dockworkers loading and unloading the cargo from the ship. Grace Line then introduced a fully containerized ship called the Santa Eliana which entered the realm of foreign trade when her destination was Venezuela in January, 1960.
Standardisation and Regulations
Container sizes needed to be standardised so that they could be efficiently stacked on top of one another. This standardization allowed for ships, trains, trucks and cranes at ports to be built or fitted to deal with one particular size specification. The International Organization for Standardisation set standards for cargo containers in 1961 and this now applies across the global industry for international shipping.
A regulation was enacted in 1972 by the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization regarding both the safe handling and the transport of shipping containers. Under this regulation, all cargo containers which travel internationally must be labelled with a CSC Plate (Container Safety Convention). The correct procedure for inspection is to inspect containers before and after packing them to ensure that they are safe and ready for transport.