The sheer amount of shipping containers in circulation today is something we often take for granted. When sending high volumes of goods across countries and oceans, turning to a container seems like the go-to solution and with the efficiency surrounding container shipping that we are lucky enough to have today, it’s not hard to see why. Nevertheless, there was once a time where containers just didn’t exist, and you may be surprised to know that that time was only around 60 years ago! There were no intermodal transport systems, no shipping containers, and shipping goods overseas was a far more difficult affair. Here, we’re going to take a look into the nature of logistics before shipping containers, and just how they came to be the commodity they are today.

Pre-Shipping Containers

Anyone with an inkling of knowledge of history will know that transporting goods was something that happened long before containers were brought into circulation. Food, cotton, goods and even treasure were all sent on voyages across the seas, but how did mankind go about shipping these successfully?

Well, it certainly wasn’t an easy process. There was no standardisation, and it was a slow and tedious process. Loading and loading barrels, crates, sacks and bales was a time-consuming process and hard on the body. Goods would be stored in a port warehouse until the boat was available for loading, and the labour-intensive process of loading began – with loads of up to 200,000 pieces of cargo per ship! Some ships could even sit in the port being loaded longer than they’d be at sea. Accidents, loss and theft were rife, even with the basic systems in place to make it easier. These basic systems included using rope to bundle timber, sacks for coffee beans, pallets for stacking boxes, bags and sacks, but even with the efficiency, there were still faults to be suffered.

The Birth Of Intermodalism

The need for standardised shipping methods was great, but the work and persuasion it would take to align ships, trains, trucks and ports into a well-flowing process seemed too much for most – that’s where Malcom McLean comes in. Born in 1914, this North Carolina-born man launched a transport business in 1934, soon gaining five trucks that worked under him, and it was while delivering cotton bales in 1937 that he came across the loading and unloading of cargo, noting how it would take hours and was a colossal waste of time and money. Between 1937 and 1950, McClean focused on his transport business, taking those five trucks to over 1750, with 37 transport terminals. It was then that he started looking for more efficient ways to transport cargo after being fined multiple times for breaking weight restrictions and was ultimately reminded of his experience back in 1937.

Thus, the idea of containers was born. McClean came up with a standard sized container – or trailer – which could be loaded onto ships in their hundreds. He was imagining a revolution to his business, removing most trucks and instead using boats to transport his goods. After selling his company and buying the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company, he went on to test countless variations of containers until reaching the container as we know it today!

So there you go, there’s a quick rundown on shipping before containers, and how we came to use the containers we have today. If you’re thinking about shipping out some goods and would like advice on how to do just that, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here today.