• the ISO shipping container and railroads

  • Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.
Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.

Moderators: Komachi, David Benton

  by David Benton
To my mind , the standard container ( i.e 8*8 by 20/40 foot) was introduced by shipping lines , and adapted by railroads . Not so apparently . The origins can be traced back to the carriage of horse drawn vechicles by the earliest railways in England . But , it was actually a london banker , a Warwick Gattie , who introduced the idea of a fixed size container to facilitate the transfer between road and rail in the early 1900's . Its adaption for use by shipping lines seemd to be around 1925 to 1935 , although not in the standarised form of today . the iso standard seem to come about in the sixties / sevenites .
All of this i gleaned form a 1070's magazine called "history of Railways " .

This got me to thinking , the container has probably benefited rail as much as shipping . Indeed , here in New Zealand it is difficult to see the railway would have survived , if they hadnt adopted the container so readily . With the short distances the door to door advantage of road transport would have wiped out rail . I would say it s probalby not as relevant for countries with alot longer distances to ports .But one wonders how healthy say US railroads would be today if it wasnt for the "cream" that intermodal allows them to compete for , the high value fast moving merchandise ?

  by thirdrail
The modern shipping container was "invented" by the President of a motor carrier in North Carolina, in the USA. His name was Malcolm McLean and he owned McLean Trucking Co. The secret was the interbox connector, permitting containers to be stacked and readily fastened to railcars and truck chassis as well as anchored aboard ship.

He "put his money where his mouth was" and bought Pan-Atlantic Steamship Lines to implement his invention. Pan-Atlantic became Sea-Land and is now part of Maersk-SeaLand. His one error-his containers were a non-standard length, 35 feet, because that was the maximum trailer length still permitted in some US states at the time.

You are correct that continers or "boxes" that could be used via several modes date to the 19th century, but it was the interbox connector that made the container reveolution possible. :D

  by David Benton
Interesting . any idea around what year he invented that ? . Obvously that was a huge improvement , especially for stacking containers more than 2 high on ships etc . Ill have to reread the magazine , im sure they dont mention that .

The magazines are english from the early seventies , ( i brought a whole bound set on our equilvalent of Ebay for $ 10 ) , they are very english based in all thier views . Coming to the end of the empire and colonies i guess . But some interesting bits of history in there .

  by Sir Ray
Not an exact date:
Malcolm McLean invented the shipping container in the 1930s in New Jersey, while sitting at a dock waiting all day for cargo he had carried there in his truck to be reloaded onto a ship. He figured out a better way to pack goods and transport them by sea - which was to secure them in large steel boxes that could be easily loaded onto ships. And in so doing he came up with an idea that changed the face of global trade.
Malcolm's foresight was not limited to the concept of the freight container. His development and successful commercialization of the concept led to a number of US patents being issued. These had the potential to effectively bar others from enjoying the benefits of containerization. One in particular, USA. Patent Number 3 042 227, concerned the design of the corner fittings. It is the standardization of container sizes and these fittings by ISO that has been so essential to the free intermodal interchange of containers and the ensuing dominance of the freight container in international commerce. This standardization effort was made possible by Malcolm McLean's release of the patent. He provided to ISO a royalty free license, allowing use of his patented designs in the creation of an international standard. This standard, ISO 1161, Corner Fittings, is the very basis for all of ISO's very successful work on freight containers and the commercial success of the container concept that Commissioner Bonner so aptly described in his speech.
Edit: On second thought, maybe Mr McLean didn't really have to think all that hard to come up with shipping containers in the 1930s:
From the 1920s to the 1960s, many railroads used small containers for less-carload-lot (lcl) merchandise and bulk materials shipments. Traveling aboard specially equipped gondolas or flat cars, they were some of the most unusual and eye-catching loads of the steam-, transition- and diesel-era.
Admittedly the above is from a Walthers Catalog blurb, but still, I remember reading in other places that some LCL freight was containerized for RR shipping in the 1920s (and earlier).

  by David Benton
I Sure the container in its various forms evolved in both Europe and the America's . But Certainly we have alot to thank Malcolm Mclean for . The iso lock certainly made the container as we know it today .