Where would globalisation and import-export trade be without the invaluable shipping container? Data from 2009 indicates that 90 percent of all non-bulk cargo worldwide was moved by use of containers. China accounts for 26 percent of all container shipments in the world.
Specially designed ships that are easy to load and unload can transport as many as 14,500 twenty-foot containers at one time. That is a lot of cargo by any standard and certainly more than the originators of the first container probably conceived possible.
Early Container Shipping
The first roots of container shipping occurred when Benjamin Outram founded the Little Eaton Gangway in 1795. Outram’s company carried coal in horse-drawn wagons to canal barges. Upon arrival, the wagon was detached and loaded directly onto the barge. It was an ingenious solution and greatly reduced handling, loading and unloading.
When the barge arrived at the appointed destination, the wagon was pulled off the barge and drawn by horses to the destination’ simple, easy and practical. That is what container shipping is all about.
By the 1830, Outram’s concept was popular with rail transporters on both sides of the ocean. Railroad designed cars that could transport containers from one station to the destination station, where they could be offloaded and hauled away.
By the 1840s, wooden containers were replaced by iron containers and by 1900, the closed container became the mainstay of the shipping industry.
In 1929, Seatrain Lines started a new trend. The shipping company began the transport of loaded railroad carriers on its vessels. The shipping company made runs from New York to Cuba. In the 1930s New Haven Railroad and the Chicago Great Western Railway began the transport of highway freight cars on its trains. The railroad transport cars gradually became flatbeds as the look of the freight train began to change.
World War II And Container Shipping
The Australian Army and the US Army relied heavily on containers to ship everything from clothing, to food to arms during World War II. The Australians used containers that were 20 foot long and were close to the specifications used by today’s ‘International Organisation for Standardisation’ (ISO).
Toward the end of WWII, the US Army used containers to facilitate loading transport ships to supply troops abroad. The first containers were really large crates. The US army eventually went to closed steel containers to eliminate theft.
In 1952, the US Army adopted the term CONEX to describe the container express mindset adopted by the Pentagon. Spare parts, engineering parts were shipped in via CONEX around the world.
Trucking company owner Malcolm McLean and engineer Kenneth Tantlinger collaborated to create the modern day model of the steel container in 1955. The 8 ft. x 8 ft. x 10 ft. box could be shipped in trucks and loaded onto a ship for transport. The new, reusable container had a twist lock at each of the top corners and was made of corrugated steel. In appreciation for his work, McLean offered Tantlinger the patent on the container and thus stared the international standardisation of all shipping containers.
In 1951, Denmark constructed the first ship with the express capability of transporting steel containers. In the US, ships were built and used to transport containers from Seattle to Alaska but the lack of standardised sizes made the idea inefficient. Some containers were just 5 ft. long while others were 20 ft. Packing and stabilising was a difficult chore.
At the same time, railroads were churning out more and more flatbeds to accommodate container shipping. The need for standardisation became even more evident.
By 1968, the ISO launched a four part initiative:
- January 1968 – ISO R-668 defined the terminology, dimensions and ratings assigned to metal containers.
- July 1968 – ISO R-790 was adopted. This standard defined the identification markings that should be used on shipping containers.
- January 1970 – ISO standard T-1161 was adopted an contained specific recommendations regarding the corner fittings on shipping containers.
- October 1970 – The last of four important ISO standards R-1897 established the minimum internal dimensions of general purpose freight containers.
Impact of Containerisation
Containerisation has changed the landscape of the shipping industry. Gone are the days when 22 men were needed to pack and unpack individual cargos. Products get to the customer quickly and without handling. The net effect is that shipping and handling costs are substantially lower.
Meanwhile, containers allow for a seamless import – export experience where products are shipped and received with no handling other than packing by the export shipper an unpacking by the import buyer.
It is almost unimaginable to consider how the world would trade without ISO standards and metal, reusable containers. The freight industry has become much more efficient and products now move fluidly between ports and distribution centres at remarkable speed. This is a winning formula for consumers and for businesses alike.
At Marpak, we take a keen interest in the world of logistics, shipping, and distribution. Our products are used to protect goods in transit and in storage, and we want to provide clients in this sector with the best solutions on the market.