Where were shipping containers invented? Who invented them, and why? What were the advantages compared to previous methods of shipping? We investigate the history of modern standard shipping containers, and find out how they revolutionised international trade…

Where were shipping containers invented?

Modern containers, as we know them, were developed in the United States. The first standardised modern shipping container was patented there in 1956.

Who invented shipping containers?

The first standard shipping container was developed by Malcolm Purcell McLean. Surprisingly, he was not involved in ocean shipping. However, McLean owned the largest trucking company in the USA at the time, so he was heavily invested in transport.

Why were modern standardised shipping containers invented?

Before standardised containers were used, it took a great deal of time and effort to transfer cargo from one mode of transport to another. It was incredibly time-consuming and therefore costly. McLean therefore started developing 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 the standard shipping container.