The History of Shipping Containers

A lot of people are looking for new storage containers for sale these days, to use as portable office space, pop up cafe space, modular homes, or simply for personal storage solutions. The world currently has over 17 million shipping containers, with just five million of them actually in active use transporting goods around the world. We take these ubiquitous containers for granted, and everyone from entrepreneurs to homeowners to business owners wonder, “What can you build with storage containers?” Yet it was not all that long ago that there were no new storage containers for sale.

What Did We Use Before the Shipping Container?

People have been transporting goods over enormous distances for as long as civilization has existed, and some civilizations, such the Romans, had “worldwide” empires over which they transported anything and everything. Goods had to be stored at the ports until a boat became available. Then goods were loaded into sacks, barrels, or crates and loaded on the ships by hand.
The early 1900s brought a shipping crisis. Once the steam train was invented and lots of track had been laid, it became far more cost effective to send things by rail than by ship whenever possible. When it was necessary to use a ship, no one could bear the delay between getting everything slowly and laboriously off the ship and getting it onto the trains. For large steamships of the early 1900s, unloading could take as long as a whole week.

Noting This Untenable Situation

Better methods of storing, loading, and unloaded were clearly needed in the shipping industry. Not only did all these things need to be easier to do, but they also had to be standardized across industries, so that whatever worked for a ship could also work for a train, or for a truck, or for the cranes and storage facilities at terminals. The biggest challenge wasn’t to invent new storage containers for sale that could be used by everyone: it was getting everyone in all these industries onboard with the idea and the standardization at the same time.
A man named Malcom McLean was the one to fix all this. He worked hard as a young man to afford to buy some trucks, and in 1934 opened his own transport business. One day he was making a delivery when he saw some dockside stevedores working to unload cargo. It struck him what a terrible waste of time their work was. He didn’t have time to do anything about it, though, because he was busily building his trucking business until 1950. By that year he had the fifth largest transport business in America and owned 37 terminals and 1,750 trucks.

Time For a Change

As his business grew, so did McLean’s troubles. His drivers were often getting fined for driving with loads that were too heavy, and new expensive fees for long-haul cargo transport were eating into his business. The whole trucking transport business needed an upgrade. That was when he got the idea to create a trailer of a standardized size that could be easily loaded by the hundreds onto ships or one by one to trucks like his. His dream would involve a revamp of the whole transport system, and trucks would only be used for short hauls. This would minimize weight restriction issues and long-haul fees for the truckers.
McLean was so sure his idea would work that he sold his business and took out a bank loan. He bought a shipping company and then started testing container types. Finally, he released the first new storage containers for sale in a form similar to what we still use today. Then he had to design a ship that could hold these containers efficiently, which he did. The first ship full of cargo containers left New Jersey in 1956 and successfully delivered Houston at 25% lower cost than any other shipping companies were able to offer. This quickly convinced the world that the storage container innovation was the wave of the future.

Today a new wave of innovation is taking new storage containers for sale and transforming them into unique and useful space for land use.

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