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Years ago, 1998 to be specific, an entrepreneur in Wichita, KS, started a company that leased shipping containers to construction sites to be used as onsite portable storage. He knew that there was a need for secure storage on worksites and that the ability to go between the site and a storage facility was a luxury that not every worksite manager could afford. It needed to be on the worksite and secure. That's how "A Box 4 U," the company that eventually became SiteBox Storage, was "born." A few years later, mobile office units were added. A few years after that... well, you get the picture. But it all started with shipping containers.

Shipping containers, also known as intermodal containers, have revolutionized the way goods are transported around the world. These standardized steel boxes have transformed the logistics and transportation industry, making it more efficient and cost-effective to move cargo on a global scale. In this article, we will delve into the history of shipping containers and their role in global trade.

Early history of shipping containers

Before the advent of containerization, cargo was loaded and unloaded by hand, a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. In the 1950s, Malcolm McLean, an American trucking entrepreneur, developed the first shipping container. McLean's idea was to transfer cargo from truck to ship without the need for manual handling. In 1956, the first container ship, the Ideal X, set sail from Newark, New Jersey, to Houston, Texas, carrying 58 metal containers. This marked the beginning of containerization and the start of a revolution in global trade.

Containerization revolutionizes global trade

The standardization of shipping containers has greatly increased the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of cargo transport. Containers can be easily loaded onto ships, trains, and trucks, allowing for seamless intermodal transportation. This has led to the development of larger ships and the expansion of ports to accommodate them. The rise of containerization also led to the development of logistics infrastructure, including container yards and container terminals.

The widespread adoption of containerization has played a major role in globalization and the increase in international trade. Today, more than 90% of global trade is transported by sea, with the majority of it being moved in shipping containers. According to the World Shipping Council, in 2019, the global fleet of container ships carried around 181 million units of cargo (based on 20' containers).

An After-Market for Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are created to withstand many years on the open seas, exposed to the weather and salt air. Even so, a shipping container has an average life of 25 years. With so many shipping containers being created for use in global trade, shipping containers have also found a thriving after-market as modular structures. With their standardized handling capabilities, they are used for things like onsite portable storage and office units on construction sites, pop-up shops and restaurants, custom homes, and even community centers. There are just so many benefits of modular shipping containers.

The versatility and durability of shipping containers make them an ideal choice for a variety of applications. The standardized dimensions and sturdy construction allow for easy modification, and their ability to be easily transported makes them ideal for temporary structures. Additionally, the low cost of shipping containers compared to traditional building materials can provide significant savings. The unique and modern look of shipping containers also adds to their popularity in the after-market, offering a trendy and eco-friendly building option for various structures.

Current use and future developments

The shipping container industry is continually evolving and growing. Today, the global container shipping fleet is around 30,000 vessels. Container shipping companies are continually investing in new and larger ships to meet the growing demand for global trade. With the increasing concern for the environment, there is a growing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly container initiatives. For instance, some companies are investing in the use of electric cranes at ports and the development of electric and hybrid ships.

In the future, there is a potential for the use of advanced technologies such as automation, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) in the container shipping industry. These technologies could lead to an even more efficient and sustainable global trade system.

Shipping containers have revolutionized the way goods are transported around the world. From its early beginnings in the 1950s, containerization has transformed the logistics and transportation industry, making it more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable. The shipping container industry continues to evolve and grow, with potential for even more advancements in the future. 

Read more about some amazing uses for shipping containers!