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
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.
A standard 40-foot container
A standard 20-foot container
A detailed overview of the various components of a standard container
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:
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: