The box that changed the world: The Cargo Container. Usually about 8.5 x 8.5 x 40 feet. We see them everywhere, especially near the coast, but often on the back of flatbed trucks and train flatbeds. The cargo container is actually an amazing development in the world of shipping and commerce.
Cargo containers began to be used in the mid-1950’s. Prior to use of cargo containers ships were loaded and unloaded via “Break-Bulk” shipping which required 4-6 days to unload and then load a ship. So with break-bulk, a ship spends only 50% of its time at sea moving cargo and 50% at port. With use of containers the ship is at sea moving containers 90% of the time. A ship can be loaded and unloaded in a single day with cargo containers.
The ability to quickly load and unload a ship is just the beginning, as the cargo container is usually moved from a ship directly to a trucks or trains. Thus, the cargo container has resulted in loading and unloading occurring only at the terminal ends of the shipping process rather than multiple times (loading a truck at a factory, then unloading and loading onto a ship, then unloading at destination port, then loading onto a train and then unloading at a station then loading onto a truck and then unloading the truck).
The cargo container has had a huge impact on the economics of shipping. Ships, trains and trucks spend much less time in port/terminal and much more time moving. This greatly reduces the costs of owning and operating these transport vehicles which results in lower shipping costs.
Some of the biggest benefactors of the cargo container are alcohol distributors. Prior to the cargo container many alcohol importers would receive their shipments of spirits with around ½ of the shipment gone thru looting by longshoremen and others. There were similar problems for other valuable shipments. With the cargo container alcohol and other valuable shipments arrive intact due to the lack of loading and unloading.
The ‘box’ invented by a Fairhope gentleman…(originally from NC)…Malcom McLean. Malcom died in 2001 in NY and at the time of his death his net worth was $300 million. His family still lives here in Fairhope.