There was a time when convenient shipping containers did not exist. But that didn’t stop people from trading, selling and buying goods around the world. So, how were goods transported before shipping containers were developed? If you needed to ship goods to another country, your cargo went by sea. For thousands of years this was done without steel shipping containers and trains or engine-powered trucks.
Here are some more fascinating facts about how goods were shipped before container shipping popped onto the scene in Houston, TX:
- Who and what: The list of seafarers includes the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Spanish, British and Romans. They weren’t necessarily always traveling the oceans in search of new treasures and lands—many sailed around buying and trading things like food, materials and jewels to bring home. People back in their countries were in awe of such items, some of which were never seen before then.
- The process: The process of shipping goods back then was not easy. Individual goods had to be loaded and unloaded in wooden barrels, crates and sacks. These early shipping containers moved from land to ship and back again—it was a slow and tedious process. Referred to as “break-bulk” shipping, this was for years the only known way to transport goods by way of ship and sea.
- Labor: Loading and unloading cargo ships was incredibly labor intensive. It may be hard to believe, but a ship could spend more time docked in port than out at sea. Dockworkers needed a ton of time to safely maneuver cargo into and out of tight spaces below deck. There was also always the risk of accidents, theft and loss.
- Efficient systems: Without basic systems in place, the process back in early times would not have been efficient. Workers used rope for bundling lumber, sacks for holding coffee beans and pallets for stacking and moving goods in bags, sacks and barrels.
- Technological advances: Then came industrial and technological advances. For the shipping industry, this meant advancements in the rail system. Railways took off in the 18th century, which was great for transportation but highlighted the inadequacies of the cargo shipping system. The process of transferring cargo from trains to ships and ships to trains proved to be an enormous challenge.
- Struggles continued: Before the container shipping industry existed, all sizes and types of boxes were used to transport cargo. It was considered the logical way to move items and goods in bulk from one location to another. Even though there were these developments, cargo handling was nearly as labor intensive after World War II as it had been in the mid-1800s.
- Developing shipping containers: The developer of shipping containers was Malcolm McLean, who was the owner of a North Carolina trucking company. It was sometime in 1956 that he shipped containers for the first time. The maiden voyage trip was from Newark, NJ to Houston, TX.
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Categorised in: Shipping Containers
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