The modern-day container dates back to 1956, when American entrepreneur, Malcolm McLean, shipped the first containers from Newark to Houston, in an innovation that transformed international shipping. The container now underpins the global economy moving $4 trillion of goods every year.

McClean’s innovation set off an era of tremendous efficiency in global shipping of goods, creating a standardised unit that could be carried by any lorry, train or container ship.

Slashing the cost of shipping goods, with efficiencies and economies of scale that traditional break-bulk shipping could never achieve. Modern container ships are gargantuan, measuring up to 400 metres, with the ability to carry over 20,000 containers.

Container Facts

How many containers are there in the world?
1. Containers in use: 23 million (= 38.5 million TEU)
2. Containers not in active service: 14 million (= 23.3 million TEU)
3. New Containers: 6 million (= 10 million TEU)
The total estimated number of shipping containers is 43 million / 72 million TEU.

Who “invented” the shipping container? Thanks to Keith Tantlinger (1919 – 2011) & Malcolm McLean (1913 – 2001).

Keith created the first container design in 1949. The aluminium box was about 30ft with two highs on barges, running from Seattle and Alaska.

His ideas got McLean’s attention to find out the most efficient way to ship cargo fast and cost-effective.

McLean was a truck tycoon who had developed a metal shipping container, becoming the new transportation method for cargo handling.

The traditional “break bulk” was from then the lesser effective handling. The container system, including ports, ships, cranes, storage facilities, trucks, trains, and freight operations, developing into the structures we see today.

What are the standard container sizes?
Standard length: 20 feet & 40 feet
Standard widths: 8 feet
Standard heights: 8 feet 6 inches / 9 feet 6 inches (high cubes)

If you happen to measure the length of 20 feet container, you will find out the exact size is 19 feet 10.5 inches. This applies to 20 feet only, the 40 feet unit is indeed 40 feet long.