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The shipping container has reached retirement age – Happy 65th, container

Shipping Container, Freight Container, Container, Box, TEU – many of the synonyms and acronyms by which the common shipping container is referred to as, depending on who is talking..

It has also evolved in shape and size and now comes in various sizes and types such as 20′, 40′, 45′, GP, HQ, OT, FR, RF etc etc etc..

Universally hailed as one of the greatest inventions of the modern world, the container has really and truly made the world a smaller place and in my view, can be termed the one true architect of Globalisation..

Well, that container has now reached retirement age in human terms as it turned 65 on the 26th of April 2021 having started its journey in 1956..

Container Birthday

Malcom Mclean an American trucking company owner/trucker turned inventor and Mechanical Engineer Keith Tantlinger are the two main people credited with this innovation called the container.. McLean for the idea and concept and Tantlinger for the details and design..

Image for Ideal-Malcom-Keith

The first lot of 58 containers were loaded on board the SS Ideal X, a converted World War II oil tanker, on 26th April 1956..

Thus began the journey of the shipping container which has shaped the modern world and has influenced all spheres of our life..

In the last 5 years, since I wished a happy 60th birthday to the container, there have been 6 largest container ships in the world moving from a capacity of 19,462 TEUs in 2016 to 23,964 TEUs in 2020 with more ships of 24,000 TEUs on the way..

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Not just ship orders, considering the current extraordinary spike in trade demand and acute container shortage across the world, many of the lines have placed huge orders for empty containers..

Evergreen Marine Corp who has been in the news a lot lately due to the blockage of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given is topping the list with the most orders for containers amounting to 51% of their existing inventory.. As per Alphaliner, they are also leading in orders for container ships having placed orders for 72 ships which is about 36% of their existing fleet..

shipping container orders
Source: Statista

For the past 65 years, the shipping container has, through the creation of ISO standards, enabled mass production, transportation and usage of standardised containers which has also enabled the ports, container terminals and handling equipment to be standardized across the globe, the evolution of which has resulted in the current mega-ships capable of carrying 24,000 TEUs on a single ship..

Benefits of containerisation ranges from

  • Improved and quicker handling of cargo
  • Flexibility of cargo operation
  • Door to Door movement using same unit
  • Cargo security
  • Intermodal and multimodal operations allowing cargo to reach every nook and cranny of the world whether by sea or land
  • Cheaper per unit shipping which savings could be passed on to consumers

2016-04-22_upload_4250959_SIW 1218As per Clarksons Research, from 1971-1996 (20 years after containers first came in to being), there was 41 million TEUs of additional trade generated with about 3 million TEUs of container capacity delivered to serve the global industry..

From 1997 till 2016, this increased to 136 million TEUs of additional trade with 20 million TEU capacity delivered..

In 2019-2020, growth in maritime trade stalled and grew only 0.5% reaching volumes of 11.08 billion tons and container port traffic grew only 2% down from 5% in 2018..

But, a whopping 811.2 million TEUs were handled in container ports worldwide during this period..

Ironically, this comes on the back of predictions that the biggest decline in containership trade on record is expected to exceed 10% for full-year 2020 while the idle container fleet stood at around 11% in capacity terms in May 2020..

Trevor Crowe Graph.jpg

When experts predicted that the global shipping market still has a long way to go before it can claim a well-grounded recovery, no one imagined the current scenario where almost all shipping lines have declared billions of dollars profits which has led to an increase in above mentioned orders and hopes for a continued good performance..

So all in all, a Happy 65th birthday to the shipping container and container shipping and NO, the container is not about to retire anytime soon.. Its need is growing year on year..


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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. No mention of the 10′ and 4′ containers that were used during the early ’60s but the full usage never came about, but were part of the container innovation, due to the flexibility of the 20′ and 40′ able to hook up to chassis and tractor-trailer.

    • Hi Chris, can you elaborate a bit more on why we would need to do that..?? And what possible options are there because all global trade is now conditioned and standardised around the box.. 🙂


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