Delft University of Technology
Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering
Transport Technology

T.M. Guitton History of containerization 1930's - 1970's
Literature survey, 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 reloaded.

Reports on Transport Engineering and Logistics (in Dutch)
Modified: 2006.11.03; , TU Delft / 3mE / TT / LT.