Where were shipping containers invented? Who invented them? Why were they invented? What are the advantages? Let’s investigate the origins of the modern standard shipping container, and find out how it revolutionised international trade…

Where were shipping containers invented?

The first standardised modern shipping container was patented in the USA in 1956.

Who invented shipping containers?

Malcolm Purcell McLean developed the first standard shipping container. Although he was not involved in ocean shipping, he was invested in transport. At the time, McLean owned the largest trucking company in the USA.

Why were modern standardised shipping containers invented?

McLean saw first-hand the time and effort it took to transfer cargo from one mode of transport to another. It was incredibly time-consuming and therefore costly. He therefore set upon to develop a method of intermodal transport that was seamless and efficient.

What McLean realised was that both trucking and shipping companies stood to benefit from a standardised method of transferring cargo from one form of transport to the next. The first part of the process was to experiment with different methods of loading and unloading trucks. Gradually, McLean developed what we now recognise as a standard modern shipping container.

McLean revolutionised international trade from the 1950s onwards.

Containers ensured that cargo was safe and secure. The sturdy and secure construction reduced theft and damage. Labour was replaced with cranes for loading and unloading cargo. International trade became quicker and easier, thereby making it more cost-effective. Even ports have changed, to accommodate larger cargo ships and bigger loading facilities. This was all due to the development of a standard shipping container.