History of shipping containers
In the past, the goods used to be shipped in the form of breakbulk. Simply put, people literally threw bags with potatoes, barrels of wine, or wooden boxes of various dimensions with guns onto a horse-drawn carriage or later onto a truck. Then they drove to the nearest train station, where they had to unload the load and load it into a railway wagon. After that, the train transported the goods to the nearest port, where the goods had to be reloaded onto a ship. After arriving at the destination port, the whole process was repeated in reverse order.
Loading of breakbulk cargo
As early as the end of the 18th century, the first smaller shipping containers with a metal-wooden structure began to appear. However, each transport company used different types of containers and these were still not intermodal. Furthermore, it was not possible to use them for transport by carriage or truck as well as transport by train or ship. Only the twentieth century and mostly the second half of it meant a significant step forward in the development of shipping containers.
Conex box hoisted onto a US army truck
The successes in logistics achieved by the U.S. Army were noticed by shipping companies around the world, which began to come up with their own intermodal container solutions. Malcom McLean, the owner of the McLean Trucking Company, played an important role. In 1955, he began working with mechanical engineer and inventor Keith Tantlinger to develop a modern intermodal container. The result was an 8ft high, 8ft wide, and 10ft long container constructed from 0.098in thick corrugated steel with a twist-lock mechanism at all four upper corners for easy securing and lifting by crane. McLean also bought two U.S. Army tankers used in World War II and had them rebuilt to carry these containers. After the successful inaugural voyage of the first of them in 1957, Tantlinger persuaded McLean to make the container design freely available, paving the way for the international standardization of intermodal containers.
Malcom McLean at Port Newark, 1957
After a series of discussions and compromises between international carriers, American and European rail/ road carriers, they finally agreed on standardized dimensions and shape. These were subsequently recorded in 1968 in ISO 668. In this standard, the dimensions are already the same as we know them today.