How the Humble Container Revolutionised International Shipping

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Posted on 8th September 2013 – Shipping Vehicles


Consumer goods and their components come from all over the world and are shipped all over the world. When we watch TV or warm up a meal in a microwave oven, we don’t think about the journey our appliances, and other items that we take for granted, took. And certainly not about shipping containers, without which, however, modern shipping wouldn’t be what it is, and goods wouldn’t be as affordable.

Obviously, there always were some sorts of boxes to transport cargo from A to B, but the issue was that there were countless sizes, and containers weren’t easy to move from trains to vehicles or ships and vice versa. What the container brought to shipping is standardisation, which led to cost efficiencies, and inter-modality, which also made shipping more economical, as well as increase the safety of goods, and reduce breakage and shipping times.

The first attempts to create a container as we know it, i.e. a re-usable, durable and stackable box which could be loaded and unloaded quickly, wasn’t a simple process, as it required all countries to agree to standardised container sizes and corner fittings positions, and for shipping companies to basically stop using their own containers and go to the expense of buying new stock. But within the course of a couple of decades, the specifications of containers and all the equipment required to handle them, including lifting machines in ports, were defined through a series of ISOs standards and adhered to by the whole industry.

Containers don’t only make it cheaper to transport goods, they also protect them from theft, as they are difficult to break into. In addition, in a sea of identical boxes, it is impossible to locate specific cargo without the shipping documents, which are electronically secured.

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