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Shipping Container History, Industry, and Facts to Know

Posted on:
Oct 30, 2020


It’s hard to believe that shipping container history includes the transformation of billions of individuals decreasing the price of goods due to lower ocean transport costs! Let’s go over what a shipping container is and why it changed the world.

A shipping container is basically a durable steel, fixed-width box with load-bearing corners and floors. A standard container is 20ft long X 8ft (2.438m) wide x 8.6ft (2.591m) tall, is made of Corten steel, is airtight, and is weatherproof.

Storage containers can be manufactured fairly cheaply, due to their service lifespan of only five years. This means you can purchase one at a very low cost, and it can last 30 or more years.

Endless Possibilities

The standard container features weathertight doors at one end. However, there are many variations of storage containers that you may find, including:

  • “Coffee” containers allow airflow and stop the build-up of gas
  • Refrigeration units, AKA reefers, keep items cold or frozen
  • Insulated to minimize temperature variations inside without the use of active cooling units
  • Top loading
  • Side loading
  • Flat rack containers that can be loaded from either end, side or top
  • Bulk cargo container with a chute at the bottom for unloading
  • Half height containers to carry the same weight yet in half the height

These variations have elevated the possibilities for cargo that is able to be carried inside. But they can be unloaded, loaded and carried in standard slots, which speeds up the movement of cargo around the globe.

Shipping Container History

There is a lot of history associated with the shipping container. In 1958, U.S. trucking company owner Malcolm McLean sent his first standard shipping container out to sea. Since then, standardized modes of transport have streamlined the means of loading and unloading containers all over the world. This revolutionized the industry.

Container transport standardization has lowered the cost to move goods around the globe. Before the first standard containers had been transported in 1958, 20 percent of the value of manufactured goods lay in transporting because it took so much time and so much manpower to load and unload containers onto various modes of transport.

As a result of these cost differentials, emerging economies like China could manufacture goods for neighboring countries to use and consume. Simple manufacturing industries in rich countries may have collapsed, yet their economies have evolved into service economies with complex manufacturing.

Architects soon recognized the potential of an affordable durable metal box that could have holes cut into it with the ability to be welded to another one. Today, shipping containers are as cheap, efficient and effective as a Lego block!

Frequently Asked Questions About the History of Containers

When were containers invented?

Modern intermodal shipping containers were invented in the mid-20th century. Malcolm McLean, an American entrepreneur, is often credited with pioneering the concept. In 1956, he introduced the idea of using standardized containers to streamline the loading and unloading of ships, leading to significant cost and time savings.

How has container shipping changed over time?

Since their introduction, container shipping has undergone multiple transformations. The size and capacity of vessels have grown considerably, with some ships now able to carry over 20,000 containers.

Ports have modernized their infrastructure to handle these mega-ships. Tracking and logistics technology has also improved, allowing for real-time tracking and efficient routing.

How many containers sink a year?

It’s estimated that an average of around 1,000 to 1,500 containers are lost at sea annually. However, major incidents where ships lose a significant number of containers in a single event can skew these numbers in any given year.

What happens to shipping containers lost at sea?

Containers lost at sea can either float or sink, depending on their cargo and whether they’re filled with air. Over time, most containers will sink due to water ingress. These submerged containers can pose hazards to marine life, and their contents can potentially cause environmental harm, especially if they contain hazardous materials.

How long will a container last underground?

Without adequate modifications, a container can deteriorate rapidly underground. When buried, shipping containers can be exposed to increased stresses from the weight of the earth and groundwater corrosion. With proper waterproofing, reinforcement, and ventilation, a container can last many years. Talk with our team to get answers to any questions you have so you can rest assured your project will be successful.

Is it common for containers to fall off ships?

While it’s relatively rare considering the millions of containers shipped annually, containers can fall off ships due to rough seas, improper loading, or poor securing. Modern ships have locking mechanisms and safety protocols to minimize these incidents. Still, in turbulent conditions or during major events, there can be instances where multiple containers are lost at once.

Contact Dry Box

Find out how you can purchase a new or used shipping container of your own throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. To get a free quote, please contact us toll free at 866-549-9823.


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