The history of shipping containers or cargo containers is misconstrued, as many people believe that the first shipping container was invented in China. This is incorrect. In 1956, an American man named Malcolm McLean patented his invention which is now known as the shipping container. Although McLean was not involved with oceanic shipping, he was an experienced truck driver. By the time he submitted his patent McLean owned the largest trucking fleet in the American South and the fifth largest in the United States.
It all started for Malcolm McLean in 1934, when he purchased his first truck. He had saved his money for a long time just to buy the truck. At this time, there were not any specific procedures for loading and unloading trucks and the wooden crates used for carting all the goods were often in many different odd sizes. Malcolm observed the inefficient ways that various company’s loaded and unloaded cargo for some 20 years before he had the notion to step back and think of how the whole process could be refined to a more efficient and faster procedure. It was at this point that McLean developed some standardized methods of loading and unloading cargo from trucks to ships and warehouses.
Pan Atlantic Tanker Company owned a fair collection of rusted tankers when Malcolm McLean purchased the company. McLean renamed the company to Sea-Land Shipping and set to work experimenting with ways to load and unload cargo from trucks and ships. McLean was finally able to experiment and in his final design, created what is now called a shipping container. The shipping container is described by McLean as being super strong, uniform in design, resistant to theft, stackable, easy to load and unload, and standard to transport via diesel truck, railcar and ship.
During the same era, the Matson Navigation Company was pioneering maritime efforts on the Western US coast as well. Matson attempted a concept similar to the container McLean had developed, but the attempt was a marked failure.
It was the US Navy’s support that gave McLean’s concept the last boast it needed. By the early 1970’s McLean’s 1956 container design and working system were standardized and globally accepted. Through his ideas for efficiency, McLean changed the whole industry of shipping. The cost of loading and unloading loose cargo in 1956 was estimated at $5.86 per ton. With McLean’s system in place, the cost of loading and unloading loose cargo was reduced by more than 90% to approximately $0.16 per ton.
The shipping container that Malcolm McLean aspired to design revolutionized the shipping industry and created the first standardized method of shipping and receiving goods. This materialized foresight reduced the average cost of cargo shipping by nearly 90% and in turn reduced the cost of the commodities it transported greatly. Although there were a great many people that attempted similar concepts, it was McLean’s concept that took hold of the industry and streamlined the way cargo was loaded and unloaded from his phenomenal yet simplistic idea of a standardized shipping container.