shipping container port in China full of containers

Shipping Container Globalization

History lesson time! Back in the 1950s, a trucking entrepreneur named Malcolm McLean was frustrated with inefficient transportation practices. Determined to figure out a more efficient way to transport goods, McLean purchased the Pan Atlantic Tanker Company, which he later re-named Sea-Land Shipping, and experimented on his own shipping line. McLean’s goal was to transport cargo in the most efficient and cost-effective way, and thus the shipping container was born. In 1955 he successfully transported 58 shipping containers on the “Ideal X” from Newark NJ to Houston TX.

Before Shipping Containers

Before shipping containers came along, goods were transported in wooden barrels, crates, and sacks also referred to as “break bulk”. Cargo was crammed into every nook and cranny of a ship by dockworkers. Loading and unloading a ship was time consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive. At times, it could take up to 3 weeks to load and unload a ship. In 1959 the 1st crane was developed for loading and unloading goods. This lessened the amount of time it would take to load and unload ships, eliminated wasted space, and decreased the need for manpower. Fast forward to today, and cargo container ships can be loaded and unloaded within 24-hours.

Shipping Containers Have Changed Global Trade

In the early 1960’s world trade in merchandise was less than 20% due to higher costs, slower delivery times, and the inability to ship more goods. Also, during this time, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) came about. They were responsible for setting standard container sizes to 20’ and 40’ foot containers. Many earlier ships were not built to accommodate the containers so cargo ships were now being designed and built around the shipping container.

a stack of conex boxes

 

The Container Influence

Shipping containers have been one of the most influential drivers of globalization. They have revolutionized the way goods are transported worldwide. By the 1990’s, 90% of countries have container ports with China having the busiest container port in the world. Additionally, 97% of all shipping containers are being manufactured in China due to the fact that much of the world’s products are produced in China.

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