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The Important History Of Storage Containers

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

It is easy to take the humble storage container for granted. As container hire in Manchester and beyond is commonplace, they might appear to be a simple invention, used as a means to an end for transporting goods. However, shipping and storage containers are a vital part of all our lives; they have driven profound worldwide globalisation in the past century, with 90% of all commercial goods being transported by storage containers. From Mexico City to Manchester, storage containers have a worldwide imprint, boasting a rich history, and today, have unique uses beyond shipping. Read on to learn more.



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The Prehistory Of Storage Containers

Whether it be boxes, sacks or barrels, many forms of containers have been used throughout history to transport goods. As early as 1600 B.C. Phoenicians in Egypt ferried wood, fabrics, and glass to Arabia in sacks with camel-driven caravans. When trade became more advanced over time, the process of loading and unloading became labour-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive.


This was partly due to the variety in container size. For example, containers from a large ship had to be opened up and repacked into a boxcar. What's more, this variety in container sizes means the ship’s space wasn’t used effectively, making the weight on the vessel uneven, all whilst experiencing handling and theft.


Innovation Of Standardisation

To transport guns, bombs, and other weapons to the front lines during World War II, the U.S. dabbled with the use of standardised small containers to effective results. Then, in the 1950s, American entrepreneur Malcolm McLean thought about using this idea of standardising the size of containers, but in the context of global trade.


The implications of this idea were huge. Standardising storage container size meant that the loading and unloading of ships and trains had the potential to be seamlessly mechanised. With goods safe from damage within the container meant labour costs and stock damage would be drastically reduced, meaning that, say, storage containers from Manchester could get to Mumbai cheaply and without a scratch.


This was proven when Mclean built the standard cargo container (which is still essentially today’s standard) - manually loading a ship cost $5.86 per ton, but the standardised container cut that cost to a mere 16 cents a ton. Furthermore, with standardised units piecing together like LEGO, no space on the ship was wasted, allowing it to carry more stock.


Expansion And Wider Uses

This innovation allowed for a modern globalized world to truly thrive, as the number of goods carried by containers soared from 102 million metric tons in 1980 to about 1.83 billion metric tons as of 2017. This has even led to storage containers having other uses outside of shipping and global trade; many storage containers have been upcycled into shops, restaurants, offices, and even small homes. Hatch, a series of storage containers in Manchester that host various pop-up street food restaurants, is an exciting example of this.


About Us

If you’re curious about this rich history and are interested in container hire, Manchester Cabins can help. We have supplied storage containers in the Manchester area for over 40 years, also supplying service toilets and anti-vandal offices in Manchester too.


For container hire or anti-vandal offices from Manchester Cabins, call 0161 684 3333 to get in touch with us today.

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