How shipping containers are made

The shipping containers for carting cargo in big ships from country to country have only been around for the past 50 years.

The advent of this method of modular standard containerisation of goods revolutionised the transportation of goods and ultimately the international export market as turnaround time, theft, damage to goods and costs all went down.

Until 1956 goods packed in bales, sacks or barrels were individually transferred from the vehicle to the waiting cargo ship causing strenuous work.

This was manual work carried out by “longshoremen” using pulleys, cargo hooks and a significant labour force. An average ship had 200,000 individual pieces of cargo and it would take around a week to load and unload.

History credits Malcolm McLean with the development of the shipping container according to By the 1950s McLean had developed a large haulage business on the East Coast of the USA but had never forgotten the days of being a driver waiting for a whole day for goods to be loaded and unloaded at the port of New Jersey.

He patented a container with reinforced corner posts that could be craned off a truck chassis and had integral strength for stacking.

McLean was so confident in the potential of this modular cargo he took a loan for $42m and purchased the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company with docking rights so that he could modify cargo ships to use his new containers. He was forced to choose between haulage and shipping by the Interstate Commerce Act and so he focused on redeveloping the shipping firm and renamed it Sea-Land.

In April 1956 the modified oil tanker owned by Sea-Land ‘Ideal X’ sailed from New Jersey to Houston carrying 58 of the new containers.

What are ISO shipping containers made from? A typical ISO shipping container is made from weathering steel as specified within BS EN 10025-5:2004. This is commonly known as ‘Cor-ten’ steel.

Cor-ten steel is corrosion resistant steel that is used within many industries where exposed steel sections are necessary, e.g. building panels, facades and sculptures.

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