As an experienced freight forwarder, we help business in the UK ship items and products across close at home and across the world every day. Most items when sent via ship are sent in shipping containers and it turns out they have quite a history of their own.
Each day literally millions of shipping containers are either held in storage at docks or are being transported via road or sea. These metal boxes are often piled high upon each other on huge ships that navigate vast oceans to bring the products we need to local stores and our front doors without us hardly noticing.
Back in the mists of history, in a time long before shipping containers, things were a lot more difficult. We’ve been transporting goods by sea for thousands of years. During most of that time, goods were stored in boxes which had to be loaded and unloaded individually by hundreds of workers. These vessels were also quite small, not the huge behemoths we see today sailing across the oceans.
A typical ship can now carry thousands of different containers. A standard 20ft container itself holds around 25,000 cans of food or nearly 50,000 bananas for transportation. Some containers transport exclusive cars, clothes, toys and other products. The biggest container ship in the world, the CSCL Globe, is more than 1,300 feet in length and is capable of carrying nearly 20,000 containers.
The First Shipping Containers
You might be surprised to learn that the shipping container we know today is a relatively recent invention. It was created in 1955 by American businessman Malcolm P MacLean. When he purchased a steamship company to transport trucks across the country by river, he realised it would be simpler to have a container that could be detached and simply lifted onto a ship.
If the containers were all the same size it would make fitting them together much easier and allow him to maximise the space onboard. Of course, this didn’t happen immediately but over the next half a century we saw the rise of the shipping container that we know today.
Innovations in Shipping
What MacLean’s invention or idea started was a transformation in shipping. Today we see massive ships out on the ocean ladened with thousands of containers, travelling huge distances and through seas both calm and torrential.
It’s made shipping much cheaper which means products that previously wouldn’t have been considered for sending abroad now are. The move to shipping containers also transformed our ports which are now home to massive cranes that tower over the skyline and are responsible for removing the cargo from a whole host of different vessels.
One change that we have seen in recent years is how cargo containers are used outside the freight industry. We’ve seen them utilized as housing, for example, turned into workspaces and retail outlets, even transformed into swimming pools and works of art.
When you think about the size and weight of an individual shipping container, it’s amazing how many of these are moved around the world each day and the type of cargo they contain. Without them, the logistics of freight forwarding would be well nigh impossible and many businesses, both large and small, would find it unviable to export their products abroad.