The invention of the sea container


"American Lancer" was the name of the first full container ship to enter the Port of Hamburg in 1968. The invention of the sea container revolutionised freight transport and gave a lasting boost to trade in the Port of Hamburg. However, a sea container is now more than just a transport container. The containers are also convincing as robust storage space or are used for all kinds of projects.

But who came up with the idea for this universal product?

The father of the container - Malcom McLean

The American Malcom McLean is regarded as the inventor of the shipping container. At the age of 21, he founded a haulage company with a second-hand lorry. He quickly realised that loading goods took a lot of time and effort. He therefore began to use individual boxes and sacks to transport his goods.

McLean eventually designed a prototype container that could be used for transport by lorry, train and ship. However, it would take another 20 years before he was able to establish this prototype in freight transport by founding his own shipping company and buying two used tankers.

Despite great resistance, he believed in his idea and converted both tankers into container ships in 1956. A global sensation! With around 60 containers, the world's first container ship sailed from Newark harbour to Housten on 26 April 1956.

The advantages of his invention quickly convinced even his critics, and the "sea container" success story took its course.

Further development of sea containers

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set international standards for the sizes of sea containers to ensure that goods transport can function smoothly internationally, even in the face of increasing globalisation.

For example, the 20' standard container is often used for heavy goods such as engines. The 40' standard container, on the other hand, is perfect for transporting bulky goods such as textiles or foodstuffs.

Special containers have also become very popular. The 8' mini containers are often used by companies in the gardening and construction industry. The Multi Door containers, on the other hand, offer access from up to 4 sides and are popular across all sectors.

To summarise, Malcom McLean is rightly regarded as the inventor of multimodal freight transport using containers and as a pioneer for the numerous possible uses of sea containers.

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