container terminal

The container has turned 50

container terminal

2 May 2016

How a steel box changed the world economy. The container has turned 50. How a simple box changed the world economy and how the port of Rotterdam became a container pioneer.

Fit all in

If you have ever packed your car for a holiday, you know what it’s like. Things in different sizes, that take a lot of ingenuity to fit them all in. And just when you think you’ve figured out the right lay-out, you discover that the tent is still lying on the ground beside the car and you have to start all over again.

Efficient packing

That is exactly what loading and unloading cargo looked like until 1966. Cargo came in different shapes and sizes and sometimes dockworkers had to toil for weeks to load and unload a vessel in a decent way. Until the American Malcolm McLean came up with the idea that it would be much more efficient if everyone worldwide were to use an identical container. He invented the container that we still use today, 50 years later. A steel 40-ft or 20-ft box, with swing doors. Very simple.


“The power of the container lies in its standardisation: every container worldwide has the same properties, allowing it to be lifted by its corners everywhere,” says Bart Kuipers, Seaports and Logistics Adviser at Erasmus University. He calls the container ‘the invention of the century’. “The entire logistics infrastructure has been tailored to these standard containers: sea-going vessels, cranes, trains, trucks and inland vessels.”

More information can be found on the website of Port of Rotterdam.