How the Humble Shipping Container Changed the World

Building homes out of shipping containers is all the rage these days. But the only reason we are even talking about it is because shipping containers previously revolutionized global economics. Had they failed to achieve the promise they held when first introduced, there might not be any used containers available for home construction.

Shipping containers have done for global commerce what the internet has done for worldwide communication. They have allowed companies from nearly every country on the planet to export goods around the world safely and efficiently. Without the humble shipping container, American store shelves would not be nearly as full.

Standardizing Global Shipping

Prior to the mid-1950s, shipping containers did not exist. The first shipping container wasn’t used until 1956. Even then, the newly constructed containers were limited to domestic shipping. But those first containers were built on the concept of standardization, putting in motion what would eventually become a global enterprise.

Shipping containers are designed to be modular. They are all of uniform size and identical design. Why is this important? Because standardization allows them to be transported uniformly by ship, train, or truck. Not only that, securing shipping containers is fast and easy. This makes for speedier shipping.

Picture a shipping container coming off a vessel that just arrived from China. A crane lifts the container off the ship and sets it on the back of a truck. From there, the truck driver just needs to deploy a few twist locks to secure the container in place. Then he hits the road.

There are a number of different twist lock systems that can be utilized for shipping containers, according to Ohio-based Mytee Products. But all of them work with the same size fittings and locking systems. It doesn’t matter which system is utilized on a truck trailer or train car because they all fit.

Moving Goods Around the World

Shipping containers and the standardization that comes with them make it possible to move goods around the world with very little effort. Once again, imagine a factory in China preparing to send electronics to the U.S. That factory works with shipping containers stacked in its shipping yard.

The electronics are loaded into the shipping container using forklifts, just like loading tractor-trailers. A full container is hoisted onto the back of a truck, secured, and driven to the ducks. From there, it is loaded onto a cargo vessel with a crane.

Meanwhile, thousands of additional shipping containers arrive for transport. They are all loaded onto the vessel in under a day. The vessel makes the ocean crossing and arrives at a U.S. port where the entire process is reversed.

Some of the containers coming off the vessel will be transported by truck. Others will be loaded onto rail cars for transport to destinations further away. At the destination rail yard, containers will eventually come off cars and be transported along the final leg of the journey by trucks.

Fast, Efficient, and Easy

As you can see, the trusty shipping container makes global shipping fast, efficient, and easy. The modular nature makes them easy to transport using a variety of vehicles without having to worry about special forms of cargo control. On rail cars and trucks, deploying twist locks keeps containers in place with minimal effort. On board cargo vessels, all that is required are twist locks and chains.

And now you know why it is possible to build a house with shipping containers. Because of the way the containers revolutionized global economics, there are plenty of old containers ready to be recycled and made into homes.

Donald Phillips