Keith Tantlinger, Malcom McLean & the Shipping Container

Many people don’t know who Keith Tentlinger and Malcom Mclean are. Their combined contribution to the 20th century was one of the most important one, that revolutionized trade and commerce around the world, set the pace for globalization, and as an unintended by-product created a new field of living (read: habitats) and revolutionized today computer’s datacenters.
No, they did not invent or formulate any new field in economics or founded a stock exchange etc. Their invention was that of the modern standardized shipping container, better known technically as an intermodal container (a container designed to be moved from one mode of transport to another without unloading and reloading).

It is indeed a big feat to have ‘standardized’ something in as vast as trade & transportation of that trade. If you imagine us not having the shipping container in place, just think how disorganized everything would be today.


Malcom McLean - Father of the modern shipping container.

Malcom Mclean – Father of the modern shipping container

Keith Tentlinger: Co-Inventor of the modern shipping container.

Keith Tentlinger: Co-Inventor of the modern shipping container

Containers essentially come in two sizes: 20-foot equivalent, and 40-foot equivalent.  In the field, cargo is referred to as TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalents), i.e. how many 20 foot containers were moved. If say 10 x 40-Foot containers were moved, this would equate to 80 TEUs were moved.

Standard 40-Foot Container

A standard 40-foot container


20-Foot Standard Container

A standard 20-foot container


Container's construction components

A detailed overview of the various components of a standard container


Container door view

A view of the container’s door and its components

 The advent of a standardized shipping container meant that regardless of the system the host country was using, regardless of the geography or ship (vessel) type, there was now a singular unit for shipping cargo. In its true sense, one-size fits all.

Moving cargo before the standardization of the shipping container was messy to say the least. Various charges were levied for load and off-loading and reloading of cargo. All this hassle was wiped out when a standard unit was introduced. Ships could not stack these containers with absolute certainty and ease. A whole new industry spawned out of the container.

Shipping containers stacked-up on M.V. Colombo Express 16 across

The rapid rise of short-cargo handling times, meant, goods could be packed,shipped and offloaded to their destination much faster than was previously possible. Trade increased and the infamous 20-foot or 40-foot container being hauled on at the back of an 18-wheeler could be seen world over.  Before the era of the shipping container, derricks were seen hauling off/on cargo for days. Nowadays a regular sized container ship can be on/off loaded in as little as 24 hours (averaging 18 hours).

The container itself is so robust and well constructed (considering almost every imaginable type of cargo moves in them, that it was only a matter of time, someone would think of alternative usage for these 20/40 foot steel boxes.

The first major usage of shipping containers was that of habitats. Originally used at construction sites around the world as field offices, they would over time evolve to much more than rooms for construction foreman.

Here are some innovative examples:

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureThe above is part of a container city (more like a city-block).

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureWaiting room of some sorts (perhaps at a golf course, etc).

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureSomething I would like at the far end of my garden.

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureNow I could sit here and Quora all day!

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureStudent Dormitory in NL.

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureA mini studio in TX.

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureResidence in Quebec made entirely from containers.

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureAn office in California (using containers in a warehouse for offices & kitchen).

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureA house in Wellington (NZ) made from containers.

Shipping Container Home / Habitat / ArchitectureFreitag Flagship Store made with 17 containers.

In recent years, the computer industry has gone at great lengths to utilize the container as datacenters for servers & networking gear. Here are some examples:

Data Center Container Pod

Data Center Container Pod

Data Center Container Pod

4 thoughts on “Keith Tantlinger, Malcom McLean & the Shipping Container”

  1. That is pretty cool! Love to build a house made of Shipping Container.. I really love the design.. So unique and fascinating.. Wonderful job for the who discover this..

  2. Recently, I even read a material in which they explained that a family put a container on the top of their buiolding to enlarge their living space with one more room, but before doing so they asked their neighbour for permission, and the majority of them agreed. <a href=””>Self Unit</a>

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