top of page


Since 3200 B.C. Sea transportation is an effective way of moving people and goods from one place to another. Nowadays, about 90 percent of world trade is done by sea transportation. Because it is cheaper 3.5 times compare to rail Transportation and 20 times cheaper than air transportation. Approximately 24.000 vessels build a trading volume of 30 trillion dollars in a year worldwide.

If you ignore many specific areas that require professionalism, the Principles of trading are very clear. Trading is based on manufacturing products by using raw materials and selling them to the customers to make a profit on the markets. Before steam machines were invented, the areas nearby the source of raw materials were chosen to construct manufacturing facilities. Excepting the goods were durable to long transporting period ones, the products were selling domestic markets.

Steam Engine
With the discovery of squeezed steam has kinetic energy, Scientists have changed the dynamic of manufacturing and transportation among many other fields. Steam machines have removed the limitations of constructing facilities near the source and selling the products on the domestic markets. So, it got possible to get raw materials from Africa that are processed into products in Europe and sell them in East Asia Markets.

The cost and the period of the transportation regarding raw materials to manufacturers and products to customers are linked to the productivity of sea transportation. In order that aim, 48 canals were opened like Panama Canal where 2300 vessels passed daily. Many factors have a role in the productivity of sea transportation like steam machines and expanding ship loading capacity. But the containers and their standardization that are the subject of this article possibly made the biggest contribution.

The first use of containers was in rail transportation. These containers were primitive and do not have standardization. The containers made from wood and then metal were carried by carts and freight trains. The loading of freights to the ships was taking a very long time and cost expensiveThe merchandise was loading onto the ships by stevedores. They were handling 50 to 60 kg bags, barrels, etc. and this operation was not easy and cost a long time and money. The cost of this process accounted for half the entire cost of sea transportation. To achieve its current efficiency, it required fast and affordable loading operation and global standardization including rail and land transportation. A simple but effective idea An Entrepreneur from North Carolina was about the change the world.

Malcolm McLean who worked for a couple of years in order to get the money to buy himself a used truck set up his own transportation company, which soon had five trucks at its disposal. Once in 1937, as he was transporting cotton, he saw dockworkers packing and unloading goods for several hours. He thought that this was a waste of both time and money.

By 1950, the transportation business had grown to include 1,750 trucks and 37 transportation terminals, making it the fifth-largest in America in its field. The implementation of weight limitations and taxes on goods transportation began around this time, and getting fined was not at all uncommon for the McLean drivers. McLean remembered his ponderings from 1937 and had the idea of developing a trailer container with a standardized size that could be loaded onto ships by the hundreds. This would mean decommissioning most of these trucks and using ships to transport the goods into separate truck terminals in port cities, thus also receiving fewer fines.

Malcolm McLean
McLean sold his truck business in 1955 and took out a loan that he used partially to buy the shipping company called Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company, which already had docking rights at several eastern port cities included in the sights of McLean. In 1960, the name of the company was changed to Sealand Industries. McLean started testing different variations of containers. It was a standardized, durable, stackable, easily loadable and lockable solution. This also called for designing a ship to transport the containers. McLean bought a couple of the T2 tankers from World War II to modify them in such a way that they were able to carry 58 containers and 15,000 tons of petroleum.

Ideal X, left from New Jersey for Houston with its cargo. At first, it countered resistance and even mocking, but already before it even reached Houston, the company started receiving orders.

This was partly also due to the fact that the containers were lockable and that McLean was able to offer transportation of goods for a price that was 25% cheaper than traditional transportation.
İdeal X

After the successful maiden voyage of Ideal X, McLean ordered the Gateway City – the first ship in the world that had been designed for transporting containers. The cargo was packed and unloaded by only two crews of dockworkers at an incredible speed of 30 tons an hour! In a short time, they already started transporting containers to Holland and Scotland, Vietnam and East Asia.

The US government was looking for a more efficient way of transporting goods during the Vietnam War and it started calling for the standardization of containers. A couple of ISO standards were set to determine terminology, dimensions, classifications, identifiers and so on. Thanks to these standards we nowadays have the 20’ and 40’ containers.

McLean sold the company to Reynolds Tobacco Company for 530 million dollars. Reynolds Tobacco Company also ordered five SL-7 ships that were huge compared to the Ideal X, and they are the fastest cargo ships in the world even today.

Container Ship Growth in Years ( Source :AGSC)

After inventing and standardizing containers, the loading of goods cost became cheaper over 90% less.

It was possible to load about 1.3 tons of goods onto a ship in an hour, after the introduction of containers this number was about 30 tons per hour.

Nowadays 6,000 container ships transport about 90% of all commercial goods with 17 million containers.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page