The Shipping Container: History, Facts, Benefits & More

Explore the shipping container’s evolution, benefits, laws, facts, acronyms and more.

A Brief Chronological History

 

1930s - 1950s

Young US American trucker and entrepreneur Malcolm McLean experiences countless bottlenecks on coastal highways. His frustrations grow as high levels of regulations on commodities, routes and rates inhibit competition. McLean spends years mulling over ideas and solutions. One day, he realises that if he removes the frame of a truck, its body forms a cube which could possibly be loaded onto boats and circumvent roads.

1953

McLean purchases a small shipping company called Pan-Atlantic. Meanwhile, he stumbles across a company called Brown Industries that manufactures large aluminium boxes which could serve his purpose. He begins modifying two oil ships in his fleet so they can carry containers and transforming a set of cranes to load his containers.

April 26, 1956

The birth of the shipping container! McLean ships 58 containers from New Jersey to Texas with his company, Sea-Land Service Inc.

1966

Sea-Land Service Inc. initiates its first ever international shipment from New Jersey, USA to Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Late 1960s

Europe catches on and begins rapidly producing ships that are designed to transport containers as well as offering shipping and container services.

1960s - 1970s

Container shipping proves to be a highly advantageous form of transporting goods during the Vietnam War. The US army builds numerous ports and a new trade route via Japan facilitates new opportunities for trans-Pacific trade.

1970

Around the world, independent container shipping companies struggle to stay afloat. As a result, consolidations which still exist today, such as Hapag-LLoyd, are formed.

1973

Danish shipping company Maersk builds its first container ship. Less than a decade later, it is the third-largest container shipper in the world. By now, container ships record transporting 4 million TEUs annually.

1985

The first electronic Bill of Lading (Sea Docs) takes container efficiency to the next level. Logistics management has successfully established itself as a way of doing business and trade internationally.

1986 

Having struggled to remain competitive for years, McLean declares bankruptcy in what goes down in history as the biggest US bankruptcy case of all times.

1991

Out of the ten largest ports in the world, six are located in Asia.

2000s

Shipping containers that are no longer deemed fit for sea are repurposed by other industries, such as agriculture and architecture.

2008

A new generation of containers, such as collapsible containers, is born. This provides new opportunities, such as mobile storage units.

2013

90% of global trade is seaborne.

2019

Annual world shipping trade is valued at 13 trillion USD.

2020

The pandemic wreaks havoc on the global shipping industry. Closed borders, lower consumption and disrupted supply chains cause substantial delay, disruptions and financial losses. The collapse of oil prices allows many companies to recover financially. Price wars within the industry rage as shipping rates go through the roof. 

2021

The shipping industry is expected to surge.

 

Sources & further reading: 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Containers Over Trucking According to Blinkist 

  • Lower packaging costs

  • Lower insurance rates 

  • Fewer damages

  • More efficient

  • More lucrative

  • Fosters a more interconnected world

Read or listen to The Box on Blinkist!


How Container Ports Work: Logistics of Intermodal Transport

 

 

 

The Most Important Treaties and Standards for Shipping Containers

The 1972 Customs Convention on Containers (CCC)

In this convention, the United Nations (UN) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) officially recognised containers as Instruments of International Traffic (IIT) under customs seal. It provided a framework for the use of containers in international transportation which is still applicable today, namely temporary importation of containers free of import duties, taxes, prohibitions and restrictions.

The 1972 International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC)

The joint conference held by the UN and IMO which established international standards for test procedures and safety requirements for shipping containers to maximise human safety and facilitate international trade.

ISO Standards 

The International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) 30 international standards for freight containers, including air, surface, onboard vessels, tanks, and platforms.

 

 

A Glossary of the Most Important Container Acronyms

All definitions retrieved from: https://www.scandiccontainer.fi/en/container-glossary/

Acronym

Term

Definition

ACEP

Approved Continuous Examination Programme

The owner’s standard for the container’s condition.

BCO 

Beneficial Cargo Owner

The importer of record who takes possession of the cargo at its destination.

CSC 

International Convention for Safe Containers

An international standard for the condition of containers.

MGW

Maximum Gross Weight

The maximum total weight permitted on a ship or in a container.

ISO Container 

International Organisation for Standardisation Containers 

 

A container built to international standard dimensions.

OT 

Open Top Container

A container with a tarpaulin instead of a roof, loaded from the top.

RC 

Reefer Container

A refrigerated/heated container.

SD/FSD

Side Door/Full-Side Door

The long side of a container has full-side doors, with the whole side opening.

TEU 

Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit

A measure of volume in units of twenty-foot long containers: 

  • One 20-foot container = 1 TEU

  • One 40-foot container = 2 TEUs = 1 FEU = Forty-Foot Equivalent Unit

Large container ships are able to transport more than 18,000 TEUs.

WWT

Wind and Water Tight

A wind- and water-tight container, which may have been fixed using temporary repair methods.

 

 

 

Did you know?

 

The Top 3 International Shipping Companies Today

 

Source: https://moverfocus.com/shipping-companies

 

A.P. MOLLER-MAERSK GROUP

 

Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC)

CHINA COSCO

Rank

2

3

Founded

1904

1970

1961

Headquarters

Copenhagen, Denmark

Geneva, Switzerland

Beijing, China

Employees

76,000 

>70,000 

130,000

Revenue

USD 9.6 bn

USD 28.19bn

RMB 72.5bn

TEU 

4,176,517

3,657,272

2,966,582 

 

Imagery: (1) Anil Reddy, (2) Andres Canavesi, (3 & 4) Bernd Dittrich via unsplash.com Video: How Container Ports Work: Logistics of Intermodal Transport via YouTube

 

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