History of containerization 1930's - 1970's
Report 2006.TL.7063, Transport Engineering and Logistics.
Transportation was mostly done by hand over land and water in the beginning
of the 20th century. Goods were exchanged between two different
transport modes but the process of unpacking and repacking was slow and
time-consuming. Because people slowly realized the need to exchange goods
more quickly and easy a lot of developments have taken place before the
introduction of the standard container in the late 1950's. Containers could
be handled with simple loading devices and with more speed. The need to
repack was gone by transferring goods from one mode to another. Large
investments, labor strikes and different load and size restrictions for
inland road and rail transport in different countries hampered the progress
of containerization despite its benefits. Since the mid 1960's it became
clear to shipping lines that the standard container was going to be the
common transport unit and growth in container transport started to rise
enormously from 150.000 TEU in 1968 to 157.6 million TEU in 1996. This study
focuses on the developments of the containerization between 1930's and
1970's. Transportation of freight in general over land and water in several
countries will be covered. Issues like types of load-units, carriers and
handling equipment are treated too.
Intermodality wasn't known in the beginning of the 20th century.
Transport modes were separated in practice by the presence of labor-intensive
cargo handling at modal interfaces and in principle by regulatory constraints
that prevented companies from operating in more than one mode. Containerization
initiated by Malcom McLean and the need to search for economic efficiency by
looking to different transport modes and comparing costs per mode persuaded
political leaders to loose some of their interdependence.
Before McLean initiated the containerization, several developments took
place in Europe and the USA. The importance of railroads and trucking became
clear during World War I and II but no intermodal movement was taking place
between the different transport modes. Some companies had done experiments
with intermodal transport. Complete railcars were put on ships. Wagons were
carried on flatcars with horses and passengers on separate cars. After World
War I some containers were developed and transported by railroads called LCL
(later CL) service. Another development was loading trucks or trailers on
flat railcars, also called piggyback or TOFC service. In Europe there were
experiments with DAF-laadkisten. These boxes could be loaded onto a railcar,
the truck itself and on the ground. Conex containers were in use around
World War II by the Army. After McLean started a container service soon
other companies saw the benefits of container transport and started with the
same service too. In Europe two other developments took place, the
palletized transport and the swap body.
By standardizing container dimensions it became possible to handle all the
containers in every port with equipment designed for this standardized
container. The standard dimensions were established by two committee's from
the USA and Europe. The USA and Europe wanted different standards but had to
come to a compromise. Finally the ISO series 1 dimensions were established.
There were also some patents on corner fittings that were hold by US firms
and had to be released which the companies did.
Because of the containerization there was a need for container handling
equipment. Different cranes like the portainer crane or the gantry crane
with spreaders were designed to handle these containers with more speed and
ease and with less costs. Special container handling vehicles like the straddle
carrier and the reach stacker were designed too.
The Industrial Revolution caused the rise of new ways of transportation.
Governments were scared for monopoly power of new companies and therefore
they established a lot of regulations. These regulations and the labor
intensive cargo handling prevented the companies to be active in more than
one mode. Companies tried to develop sophisticated methods of intermodal
transfer and finally Malcom McLean was the one to start a container service
despite the regulations and constraints. From this moment, intermodal
thinking started to became popular. The realization of the international
standardized container brought about the real revolution. This made it
possible to move the containers everywhere over the world with the use of
different transport modes where the cargo didn't had to be unloaded or
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