Our article today will cover the history of shipping containers. We’ll look at how modern shipping containers have come a long way since their advent. And how they have contributed to the global economy and also the building of affordable houses.

The birth of the shipping container may seem trivial to some, but this revolutionary advancement played a critical role in the growth of the global economy.

shipping containers for affordable housing
Shipping containers at a port

Today, shipping containers are used for more than just global trade. Above all, shipping containers are now popularly being transformed and designed into luxurious shipping container homes, studios, and apartment blocks.

Read More: How To Construct a Shipping Container Home

The humble shipping container has therefore not only transformed the supply chain and global trade as we understand it, but also the way society lives as well.

History of Shipping Containers

Before shipping containers appeared, the loading and unloading of cargo on ships was a very labor-intensive task. Rather than pack all items being transported in one area, the sacks, crates, and bags that were being shipped had to be loaded manually in a process known as break-bulk shipping.

history of shipping containers
Rusting ship

Not only was breakbulk shipping costly — it often led to the loss and destruction of goods — but it was also time-consuming as all cargo would have to be unloaded manually one by one.

Enter The Modern Shipping Container

It was coal mining in England during the 1700s that paved the way for the development of shipping containers. The first replicas of shipping containers back then were wooden boxes that would be used to store and transport the coal coming from the mines. These wooden boxes would be transhipped from the local barges before being loaded onto ferries.

Container ship
Aerial view of shipping container

Although the wooden boxes proved to be effective for a time, they were neither sturdy nor able to withstand the rough waters of the ocean. Before very long, the wooden boxes were replaced by iron boxes.

By the time the WWII rolled in, armies had already designed specialized boxes known as transporters that were used for shipping war machinery. It was not until 1955 that a small trucking business owner by the name of Malcolm P. McLean re-invented shipping containers to make them more modern.

McLean’s Modern Shipping Containers

Malcolm McLean designed the modern shipping container in a bid to reduce the costs associated with shipping. Mclean believed that he could design a shipping container that could allow the transport of entire truck trailers with cargo still contained inside them.

Modern day container ship
Container ship

The first shipping container made its voyage trip on April 26, 1956, from Newark to Houston in a tanker that was known as SS Ideal X. So, Malcolm’s approach paved way for what is known today as intermodal shipping which involves transporting shipping containers to and from their carrier ships using ships and trucks.

So upon transport to and from the carrier ship, these containers would simply be moved from the trucks or ships using cranes and a range of powerful equipment capable of doing the heavy lifting.

Today, almost all of the word’s shipping takes place this way, through Malcolm’s intermodal shipping containers. In addition, shipping container are available in different sizes ranging 10, 20, 30 to 40 feet in length, and 8 or 8.6 feet in height.

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