The History of Shipping Containers

We take the presence of shipping containers in our commerce and transport industries for granted. Shipping containers vastly improved the speed and efficiencies involved in transporting a wide range of goods, and fast forward to present day, shipping containers are used for more than shipping – just take a look at our storage containers. However, there was a time before shipping containers and it wasn’t all that long ago; just take a look at the history of shipping containers below.

Founder: Malcolm McLean

From the years of 1937 to 1950, Malcolm McLean grew his truck transport business to the fifth-largest in the nation. He quickly realized that there were inefficiencies in transporting bulk goods – especially when it came to changing the shipping method of his goods from trucks to boats or trains. To solve this issue. he envisioned a system reliant on boats transporting hundreds of large trailers and would only use trucks for shorter intrastate shipments.

Shipping Containers are Born

McLean was so convinced of his transportation standardization model that he sold his trucking business and took out a loan of $42 million to fund his venture. With a portion of the funds, McLean purchased the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company and rebranded it as SeaLand Industries. SeaLand Industries would be the front of the boating component of his business.

McLean partnered with engineer Keith Tantlinger to design the first iteration of the shipping container, and it isn’t too different from what we recognize shipping containers as today. The design boasted containers that were durable, stackable, and lockable – a revolution in the industry.

Ideal X

In 1956, McLean modified the oil tanker, Ideal X, to hold 58 of his shipping containers, plus thousands of pounds of fuel. The maiden voyage of the Ideal X was from New Jersey to Houston, and it was clear his idea was an immediate success. Before the ship could even head back to New Jersey, it had orders to fill the ship. McLean was able to offer a 25% discount off of traditional transport fees and because the containers were lockable, shippers felt confident their goods would not be stolen in transport.

Matson vs. McLean

During the Vietnam War, the government was looking for a more standardized way to ship their goods. Up until this point, there was no standard shipping container size or corner fittings.  However, McLean was using 35-foot shipping containers, and the industry competitor, Matson, was using 24-foot containers.

To bridge this gap, Matson released the patent for his durable corner fittings and sizing standards were set. From this standardization came international shipments, larger ships to transport the boats, the cost of shipping dropped 90%, and shipping containers as we know them were created.

Today, shipping containers are used for so much more than shipping. From storage, to offices, to custom homes, shipping containers are the structure of the future. For any of your storage container needs, give Lone Star Storage Trailers a call today!