It is quite often the littlest things that can change the world in the grandest of ways. We here at Containertech know of the value that shipping containers can bring to all of our lives, but did you know that the invention of the shipping container helped to shape the world and economy that we live in today?
In the time before containers were widely used, back in 1956, the world of international shipping, transport and logistics was a very different one. The backbone of the industry was much more based on the manpower of the labour force that would manually load and unload ships and everything from production and distribution of goods was on a much more local basis. It was simply too expensive to send goods halfway across the world in those days, so power laid with those who could go into local production.
However, all of that changed the day that eight aluminium containers were loaded onto a ship by crane in Newark, New Jersey. The initial idea came from Malcolm P. McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina in the US, who wanted to utilise his truck’s containers by placing them directly from the truck onto the ship for transport. His idea was to use one container holding the same cargo throughout the shipping process, greatly improving efficiency. This came be known as “intermodal” transport.
A New Way
The widespread implementation of shipping containers may have seemed like a no brainer- keep your goods in boxes in order to ship more at a faster rate- but the shipping container itself represented the culmination of a complex feat of engineering. The challenge of how to create a transportation container that was both durable enough to be able to be stacked upon one another and flexible enough to withstand the considerable stress that would be placed upon the containers from long periods of sea travel.
What shipping containers provided was a solution for moving goods as cheaply and efficiently as possible. This transition managed to drastically change the world’s economy. Small shipping ports like Seattle suddenly turned into maritime giants and production shifted from a local basis to wherever it was cheapest to set up shop. This paved the way for standardisation and globalisation as it became easier to ship products worldwide, with many claiming that the invention of the shipping container was the single biggest driving force behind globalisation in the second-half of the 20th Century.
Not bad for what seems like such a basic product. Perhaps the next time you see a shipping container, you’ll stop and think twice at the impact they have had on our modern world.