Shipping Container Transportation
Shipping Container Transportation

Shipping containers are found everywhere in the modern world, and these days they are being used and converted for so many different purposes other than just transportation. It wasn’t always that way though, and the opinion of many is that the invention of the modern day shipping container was actually way ahead of its time.

We’ll take a brief look at the evolution of shipping containers, from the reasons why they were invented in the first place, and how they’ve truly transformed the way goods are transported around the globe in the modern era.

How Cargo Used To Be Transported

For as long as mankind has had ships, goods have been transported across the seas and oceans to new locations. The Spanish, during their conquest of the New World, primarily used wooden crates, chests, and barrels for cargo.

For hundreds of years since the packing and unpacking of cargo on ships was all done manually and basically a piece at a time. Naturally, this was a very time-consuming process that saw ships being docked for days as transported cargo was unloaded and fresh cargo stacked into the hold to be taken to the next destination.

It was a slow, laborious and inaccurate process, but at the time it’s the best there was. Many man hours were involved in every step of the way, and long delays in port meant delivery times were both lengthy and highly unreliable.

Early Signs of Cargo Containers

Some of the very earliest signs of what’s often termed “containerization” were actually a result of seeking more efficient ways to transport coal from mines in various locations throughout England back in 1766.

A prime example is when James Brindley created a box boat that was comprised of ten wooden containers in which to load the coal. This very early form of “container ship” (it was really a barge) would then transport the coal from the Worsley Delph Quarry down to Manchester via the Bridgewater Canal.

This idea wasn’t just confined to water transportation, as in the 1830s, container cars had been designed for the railroad system. Once again coal and other raw materials could be loaded directly into these containers cars and transported by rail.

Originally these boxes were made from wood, but by the 1840s they started to make them from iron, which was much more robust, could handle heavier loads and lasted years longer than their wooden counterparts.

All of these early boxes or containers used for transportation were open-top. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that fully closed containers were being developed and put to regular use.

More Modern Advances for Cargo Containers

Ideas for container transportation saw further advancement on US shores with Benjamin Franklin Fitch coming up with the idea of removable cargo containers in 1917. The demountable containers were used both on trains as well as long haul trucks.

More innovations also took place throughout Europe during the early stages of the 20th Century. Container boxes were being added to passenger trains in order to transport passengers’ luggage. One such example is the luxurious passenger train that traveled between London and Paris called the Golden Arrow/Fleche d’Or. In the mid-1920s, 4 luggage containers were added to the train.

It was during the late 1920s and early 1930s that containers that could be loaded from a crane system came into use in both the United States and throughout Europe. These containers were still primarily for being transported via train, and not so much for ocean-going transportation.

World War II Saw Maritime Cargo Advances

The Second World War saw huge advances in many forms of technology due to necessity. The war also helped the advances of the humble cargo container, particularly when it came to ocean travel.

The United States Army wanted a much faster and efficient way of loading and unloading equipment from ships, so they began making containers of a uniform size that could be placed on and secured onto pallets. These containers were very quick and easy to unload.

Corrugated steel containers soon became the norm during the war because of their rigidity, longevity, and security.

The Modern Day Shipping Container

US trucker, Malcolm McLean, is often credited with having set the precedent for the modern day shipping container. This started when in 1956 his trucking company loaded 58 aluminum truck bodies onto a tanker ship in New Jersey and had them shipped by sea to Houston, Texas.

These days intermodal shipping containers have become the standard way of transporting phenomenal amounts of cargo all over the world. Container shapes, sizes, and designs have all been standardized for easy transportation and stacking, on road and aboard massive container ships.

There is also a range of specialized shipping containers, such as containers designed for the safe transportation and storage of dangerous goods, top loading containers, side loading shipping containers, and even containers that can be flat packed when not in use.

Millions upon millions of cargo containers being transported from port to port all around the world every single year. Everything from cars, machinery, to household goods are being packed into shipping containers and sent off to their new destinations.

Intermodal container transportation has become the most efficient, safest and cost-effective way to move goods from port to port and country to country. Massive amounts of goods are being moved on a daily basis, and without the modern day shipping container, this mass daily exodus of cargo simply wouldn’t be possible.

Not only do shipping containers provide an effective way of moving all this cargo, but they also provide safety for the goods being transported. Made from super strong corrugated steel with airtight seals, provided the container is properly packed, goods safely make it from one port to the next with no transportation damage, water damage or the invasion of pests.

While shipping containers are being transformed into houses, office space, cafes, pop-up shops and the like these days, they are still the best way to transport cargo around the world, and that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Infographic Courtesy Tiger Containers

Ashley Bryan is an Internet Strategist and SEO professional based in Queensland, Australia, with 20 years’ experience in the field. He actively writes on topics of personal interest or for businesses across Australia and New Zealand. View his website: