Freight Container History

Not many people are aware of the container history, though they may have been working in container shipping industry for long time.

Containers, in general meaning, are used in shipping since 18th century or even earlier, in the form of such equipment as crates, drums, wooden boxes... Yet, these were usually small and not in a standard form.

Intermodal containers were officially in use when the “Ideal X”, the converted old tanker were loaded with bodies of 58 trailer trucks at a dock in Newark, New Jersey, USA. These first containers had the length of 35 feet, and were actually modified from aluminum truck bodies in frames installed atop its deck.

These cargo receptacles originated from an innovative idea of Malcom McLean, who was dubbed the “Father of Containerization”. It is said that back to 1937 Malcom McLean, as a trucker, while waiting long hours for his truck to be unloaded in Hoboken, New Jersey conceived the idea of a simple, fast, and cost-efficient way to handle cargo between ships and trucks. And that’s the idea which later were called “intermodal container”.

McLean’s invention was not widely accepted. He had to overcome many challenges (for example from port authorities, union, customers…) before his idea became the standard transport operation today. Finally, McLean provided ISO (International Organization for Standardization) a royalty free license of his patented designs for the creation of an international standard on freight containers. The move toward greater standardization helped broaden the possibilities for intermodal transportation.

World container fleet
Year-end Fleet (TEU)

Source: Martin Stopford 1997, Maritime Economic and CI
Note: 1960 & 1965: Fleet size are in units (not TEU)

Source: Martin Stopford 1997, Maritime Economic and CI
Note: 1960 & 1965: Fleet size are in units (not TEU)

Today, after only nearly 55 years, approximately 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide moves by containers stacked on transport ships, and up to 2009, there are about 25 million TEUs using in shipping around the world.

Click here for more information about container history 

Return from Container history to Freight container 

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