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The Origin of the Shipping Container

Shipping containers are something that we largely take for granted, especially right now. They are relatively recent innovations that changed the shipping industry and the global economy. While it might not be the most common topic to explore, looking at the history and development of shipping containers provides interesting and informative insights into the transformations of the shipping industry and how the impact of this development continue to affect world economies.

The Invention of the Shipping Container

The concept of the shipping container was developed in 1955 by trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean, who wanted to create one container that could be loaded straight on a ship without having to first unload the freight. To accomplish this goal, McLean purchased a steamship company, which he named Sealand, and began working to find a way to ship full trailers with freight.

The idea took off quickly, and by 1961 there were international standards for container sizes. In 1966, Seanland’s first ship, loaded with 236 containers, departed the United States for the Netherlands. The trip was successful, and the industry quickly expanded afterwards.

In the last 60 years, many companies have worked to improve the technology of the shipping container to make the process more efficient; however, the basic concept of the shipping container has remained unchanged.

Impact of the Shipping Container

The shipping container revolutionized the industry by making shipping more efficient and affordable than ever before. With containers, cargo could be stacked, meaning that even more cargo could be shipped. Additionally, the shipping container drastically reduced labor costs and even reduced theft as containers are sealed.

Perhaps the most notable impact of containerized shipping is the shift in economic geography. Containers made it so ports no longer needed to be close to factories or customers, which led to a rise in smaller ports and more opportunities for future ports.

Containerized shipping made it possible for companies to utilize warehouses and factories around the world. Because of the low costs of shipping and the flexibility this created for the location of factories, warehouses, and ports, many businesses shifted their operations and systems.


The shipping container is now a central component of the shipping industry, but it is a relatively recent innovation. The development of an effective system of containerized shipping was the result of a decade of research, investment, and negotiations. However, once the process was developed, it almost immediately revolutionized the industry with a continued impact 60 years later.

Similar to containerized shipping, ClearFreight can make a significant impact to your business. To learn how ClearFreight can support your supply chain, contact us today.

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