ISO Shipping Containers: Standards That Have Stood the Test of Time
As most of us in the know, Malcolm Mclean has been credited with the invention and development of the ISO Shipping Container. This, however, was just the first step in the utilization of these cargo boxes.
Mclean had invested millions of dollars in the steamship company Pan-Atlantic which he later coined Sea-Land. In the late 1950’s the modified oil tanker owned by Sea-Land “Ideal X” sailed from New Jersey to Houston carrying 58 of the newly devised steel boxes. As the news of containerization started to spread, and the breadth of this new method of carrying cargo began to take shape, other companies started their own investments in the rising industry. Matson, a USA shipping line, was investing in it’s own finances into the new modular steel boxes. There was a slight dis-connect however: Mclean had been using 33 foot long containers due to being the limited length permitted for loading onto truck chassis at the time, and Matson chose a 24 foot container sighting weight concerns as they began to ship heavier cargo overseas.
The difference in the size of containers that companies were deciding to use became a problem. The military were extremely interested in the freight containers, however in a time of war they needed consistency in the size of the boxes so they could anticipate the amount of cargo being shipped and received. The government began to push for standardization, while Mclean’s vigilance in the same goal resulted in container designs that were ultimately awarded patent protection.Understanding that standardization was the only route to major industry growth, Mclean issued a royalty-free lease of the patent to the Industrial Organization for Standardization (ISO). From this point on, it absolutely caught fire. From the first Sea-Land ship carrying 58 boxes in 1958, to just a decade later when “SeaLand Industries” had 27,000 containers, 36 ships and access to over 30 port cities.
In 1969, a mechanical engineer named Richard Gibney coined the phrase “Twenty Foot Equivalent” (TEU), and to this day is the term used to describe containers. 20’ shipping containers that were 8’ wide and 8’6 high (1 TEU) and 40’ shipping containers of the same dimension (2 TEU), would become the standard.
Bear in mind, the advent of the shipping container was not the beginning of cargo transport. A 1955 article in the Wall Street Journal stated, “ One of the nation’s oldest and sickest industries is embarking on a quiet attempt to cure some of it’s own ills.” Little did they know that Malcolm Mclean’s patent of the containers corner-post design would not only cure the “ills”, it would revolutionize the entire industry.The standards that Mclean had developed, and eventually, the design of the corner-post was the groundbreaking factor that stood the test of time. In simple terms the containers have not changed since the 1950s. Materials have become much stronger, production capabilities and efficiency has increased. Today the ISO Shipping Container is expected to last much longer then thirty or forty years ago for many reasons including materials, maintenance practice and better and more precise handling equipment. The container industry is very proud to say that we have come together worldwide to create something that is standard. All the containers that are being transported these days are 20ft shipping Containers, 40ft shipping containers or 45ft shipping containers. With 40ft and 45ft Containers available in high cube dimension which is exactly 1ft higher then the typical 8’6” Standard Container.
It is difficult to find standardization in industry, especially things like units of measure; the ISO Shipping Container remains equal, worldwide.
Written By: Gabe Crane Container Alliance Co.
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