The Shipping container industry, in its modern context is in its 57th year now, having become officially recognised in 1956. From its first voyage, this method of long-distance consumer goods logistics has grown steadily. Now, just 57 years on shipping containers carry over 60% of the value of goods at sea.
The concept of shipping container carrying was not completely abstract and radical. The technique of transporting containers laden with commercial goods had been used by rail and horse-drawn transport as early as the 1700s in the UK. This was again evident during WW2, when the US Military used small standard-sized containers as a means of efficiently and expediently off-loading and distributing supplies. The transition to maritime was the brain-child of Malcom P. McLean, a trucking entrepreneur by trade. Malcom bought a steamship company with the idea of transporting entire truck trailers with their cargo still unloaded inside. This, he realised was a much quicker process (to load one container from truck to boat without unloading), than the current practice of unloading and reloading at the docks.
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.
The advent of Malcom’s innovation meant that containers could be moved seamlessly between ships, trucks and trains thus simplifying the entire logistical process. The manifestation of his concept also led to a revolution in cargo transportation and international trade over the next 50 years and beyond.
Before shipping containers
People have been trading with each other, between nations and across oceans, for a long time – thousands of years before the shipping container industry came into being…How did they manage to do this?
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 thousands of kilometres or miles away. That means the containers would move seamlessly between ships, trucks and trains.
Buyers and sellers of goods recognised the potential of container shipping very early on, and the international standards for container size agreed to in 1961 paved the way for container ships to be used to transport goods between countries.