Freight containers and truck dispatcher course are so popular and widespread that it is difficult to imagine how cargo would be transported without them. Due to the fact that the main cargo traffic moves in standard containers, logistics processes have been accelerated and simplified. With them, it is easier to complete land and sea transport, reload goods in multimodal deliveries, sort large volumes of cargo. But containers appeared relatively recently – only in the middle of the 20th century.
How cargo was transported before the invention of the container
Before the advent of standard containers, goods were transported in any packaging suitable for them. These could be bags, barrels, or boxes. In warehouses, the goods were stored without packaging at all: the goods simply lay in the room until a suitable ship, train or carrier arrived.
When it was time to load, the goods were placed in bags and barrels, then manually loaded onto a vehicle. And, if a couple of hundred years ago this was not a big problem, then in the 1900s the traffic volumes increased hundreds of times and the manual unloading of ships no longer met the requirements of the time. Due to the weekly unloading and long sorting of each unit of goods, ships and trains accumulated in ports and train stations. The entire loading process had to be changed.
Creation of the first container: when it appeared and who came up with it
Modern container shipping owes its origins to Malcolm McLean, an American who began his career as a truck driver. In 1937, filling another order for the transportation of goods, he thought about rationalizing this process. Then he came up with a good idea – to make it possible to disconnect the trailer from the truck itself, so as not to waste time unloading before going back.
Over time, McLean was able to develop his own transportation business: his shipping company was the fifth largest in all of America. However, due to the large volumes, McLean thought about modernizing the transportation process and changing vehicles. In order to legally be able to use sea transport, he had to get rid of his share in the trucking business.
In the 1950s, McLean hired an engineer named Keith Tantlinger for his shipping company. Previously, he worked in a transport company, so he was familiar with all the subtleties. McLean entrusted him with the design and creation of a shipping container. The entrepreneur far-sightedly planned to use the container not only for loading onto a cargo ship, but also for road transport.
Tantlinger succeeded: he not only created the perfect shipping container, but also calculated its structure in such a way that they could be stacked one on top of the other. He also owns the systems of locks and fasteners that are still used today. In total, he has registered 79 patents for freight containers.
To test container shipping, McLean’s team refitted an experimental ship in 3 months. It fits 58 containers. The result was beyond expectations. Loading and unloading was carried out in a few hours, and no damage was found to the cargo inside the containers.
After the invention of containers, the cost of transshipment of one ton decreased 36 times, the reloading time – 6 times, labor costs – more than 4 times.
Regular container lines became operational during the Vietnam War. McLean was able to win a contract with the US Naval Transportation Administration and test the first multimodal transportation. At the port, containers were loaded onto vehicles and delivered to American bases.
In order not to bring back empty containers, the enterprising McLean entered into contracts with nearby Asian countries. At their ports, he loaded commercial goods into empty containers and ferried them to America.
The new transportation technology turned out to be so convenient that it quickly spread around the world. The downtime of ships was reduced, and the cost of loaders was reduced. By the late 1960s, Sea-Land Services Inc – Malcolm McLean’s company – had more than 27,000 containers and thirty ships. Its representations were in all major ports of the world.
To buy giant ships for his company to carry a large number of containers and build terminals in ports, in the 1970s McLean attracted investors to develop Sea-Land Service Inc. More and more shipping companies followed the example of Sea-Land and switched to container loading: patents for the production of containers were open due to the need for standardization.
Transportation in containers turned out to be so profitable and convenient that in the end they completely replaced manual loading, despite the resistance of port workers, whose services were no longer needed.
In 1999, two years before McLean’s death, SeaLand bought the major logistics company Maersk. Today, the giant is known in the market under the Horizon Lines brand. Its share in the container shipping market is 36%.
On the day of the funeral of the creator of one of the most ingenious technologies of the 20th century, Malcolm McLean, container ships around the world simultaneously emitted a long blast in honor of his memory.
Freight containers in our time
Nowadays, containerized transportation is the most common type of transportation, which is constantly being improved:
Equipment for loading and moving containers appeared.
Alarms and beacons began to be used in containers to protect against unauthorized opening.
Containers for different types of cargo appeared: insulated, refrigerated, with an opening roof, for transporting liquids, double doors and many others. They all have standard sizes and mountings.
A system for securing loads has appeared, which protects them from damage.
A special transport for the transportation of containers has been designed: container ships (cargo ships) and platforms.