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Who Invented the Shipping Container (Intermodal Container)

A shipping container, properly known as an intermodal container, is a large steel rectangular box shaped container used for transporting goods over long distances. These containers are standard size to ensure that they can be stacked on ships, trucks and trains for transport around the world. This standardized size and shape also allows to transfer between these modes of transport without first unloading the contents. The invention of the intermodal container was a revolution in the shipping industry and more items are shipped in this way than any other form of transport. Let’s find out who invented the intermodal container.

Who invented the shipping container?
A group of shipping containers stacked on top of each other.
The idea of standardized shipping containers has been around since the late 18th century and by 1830 the many railroads began carrying containers that could be transferred to other modes of transport. However, the modern steel intermodal containers were not invented until much later. It was in 1955 that Malcom McLean, a former trucking company owner, and engineer Keith Tantlinger who came up with the modern shipping container. It was Tantlinger who persuaded McLean that it was important to construct the containers so that they could be stacked on top of each other securely. Tantlinger designed the container, including the Twistlock system which allows the container to be properly secured.

McLean saw much promise in the idea of loading a ship with contained and secured a bank loan to convert two World War II tankers into container ships. In 1956 the first of his converted container ships set sail with fifty eight containers. In just a few years this type of transporting goods became the standard method. Today, 90% of non bulky cargo is moved with shipping containers that are stacked on transport ships!

Did you know?
At the time that the first container ship sailed it cost $5.86 a ton to hand load the cargo and just 16 cents a ton to load the cargo with containers!

The measurements of the original shipping containers were 2.44 m (8 ft) wide and high and 6.1 m (20 ft) or 12.19 m (40 ft) long. Today, other dimensions have also been developed.

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