About Containers

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A brief history of the intermodal shipping container

A shipping container is a container with strength suitable to withstand shipment, storage, and handling. Shipping containers range from large reusable steel boxes used for intermodal shipments to the ubiquitous corrugated boxes.

The basic idea of the shipping container was first devised in the United States during the Second World War when cargo was placed on wooden pallets and then loaded by crane into ships.



  • First mobile lorry (truck) mounted cargo boxes used for transporting food by local meat butcher Thoburn Brown.
  • US coast-to-coast refrigerated transportation needs, brings ‘The Thermo King’ container to market by Harry Werner.
  • Adaption for use to transport agricultural produce by entrepreneur Harry Werner.


  • US Army creates standardised 8ft steel containers to be loaded onto ships and trucks for various theatres of battle around the world.
  • Shipping giant, Ocean Van Lines (OVL) purchase containers for commercial usage in order to transport military supplies to Alaska for the Cold War.


  • Lack of national infrastructure in the US meant that specialised facilities for dockyards, truck chassis and cranes for handling containers stifles the up-take of use of commercial container usage.
  • In 1956 the first container ship is launched called the Ideal X operating on the East Coast.
  • Truck giant, Malcolm McLean sells his business and enters into the newly emerging shipping container industry, with a company called Sea-Land.


  • Transatlantic operations started by Sea-Land.


  • The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) for shipping containers is approved with the introduction of ISO 668.

ISO Standards for Shipping Containers

  • ISO 668 – Series 1 freight containers – classification of external dimensions and ratings [Amd 1988]
  • ISO 1161 – Series 1 freight containers – corner fittings specification
  • ISO 1496-1 – Series 1 freight containers – specification and testing
  • ISO 1894 – General purpose series 1 freight containers – minimum internal dimensions [2nd 1979]
  • ISO 6346 – Freight containers – coding, identification and marking [1995]

Other international standards

  • ASTM D5728-00 Standard Practices for Securement of Cargo in Intermodal and Unimodal Surface Transport
  • ISO 9897:1997 Freight containers – Container equipment data exchange (CEDEX) – General communication codes
  • ISO 14829:2002 Freight containers – Straddle carriers for freight container handling – Calculation of stability
  • ISO 17363:2007 Supply chain applications of RFID – Freight containers
  • ISO/PAS 17712:2006 Freight containers – Mechanical seals
  • ISO 18185-2:2007 Freight containers – Electronic seals
  • ISO/TS 10891:2009 Freight containers – Radio frequency identification (RFID) – Licence plate tag

Types of container

  • Collapsible ISO
  • Flush folding flat-rack containers for heavy and bulky semi-finished goods, out of gauge cargo
  • Gas bottle
  • Generator
  • General purpose dry van for boxes, cartons, cases, sacks, bales and pallets
  • High cube palletwide containers for europallet compatibility
  • Insulated shipping container
  • Refrigerated containers for perishable goods
  • Open top bulktainers for bulk minerals, heavy machinery
  • Open side for loading oversize pallet
  • Rolling floor for difficult to handle cargo
  • Swapbody
  • Tank containers for bulk liquids and dangerous goods
  • Ventilated containers for organic products requiring ventilation

Works Cited

Coast Guard Port Security & Captain of the Port Operations:. (2008, 7 24). Retrieved April 10, 2010, from U.S. Coast Guard : http://www.uscg.mil/History/uscghist/Port_Security_Photos_1.asp

Kotnik, J. (2009). Architecture de Containers. Barcelone : Link Books.

MediaWiki. (2010). Intermodal containers. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intermodal_container

Sawyers, P. (2008). Intermodal Shipping Container Small Steel Buildings. Paul Sawyers.