Where were shipping containers invented? By whom? Why were they invented? Why are they so useful? Let’s take a look at the origins of the modern standard shipping container, and understand how it revolutionised international trade…

Where were shipping containers invented?

The first standardised modern shipping container was patented in 1956 in the United States.

Who invented shipping containers?

Malcolm Purcell McLean developed the first standard shipping container. Although he did not own an ocean shipping company at the time, he was involved in transport. In fact, McLean owned the largest trucking company in the USA at the time.

Why were modern standardised shipping containers invented?

McLean saw for himself the time and effort involved in intermodal transport – transferring cargo from one mode of transport to another. It was incredibly time-consuming, which increased the cost. McLean therefore decided to develop a far more efficient method of intermodal transport.

McLean knew that both trucking and shipping companies stood to make more profit from a standardised method of transferring cargo from one form of transport to the next. Initially, he experimented with a range of different methods of loading and unloading trucks. Over time, McLean developed and patented what we now recognise as a standard modern shipping container.

McLean’s invention revolutionised international trade from the 1950s onwards.

These new shipping containers ensured that cargo was kept safe and secure. The sturdy and secure design reduced theft and damage. Labour for loading and unloading cargo was replaced with cranes. International trade became quicker and easier, and therefore more cost-effective. Even ports have changed, to accommodate larger cargo ships and bigger loading facilities. This was all due to McLean’s development of a standard shipping container.