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The story of a driver who changed the world

Here you are, casually reading this article on a device probably brought from China. You have clothes produced somewhere in the world. In the morning you brushed your teeth with a foreign-made toothpaste and drank coffee from another country. It is possible to continue for a long time…

But the introduction is over, and we are here to move to the gist of the story - all of the aforementioned activities could not be feasible without shipping containers. Keep reading and you’ll learn who created containers and contributed to the start of container shipment revolution.

Malcolm McLean - the man of the century

This is far from a single title of this American entrepreneur who is considered to be the inventor of transportation modules. By the way, McLean also created the first commercial container ship as well as an automobile container platform.

It all started during the Great Depression when a young man from North Carolina decided to open a company called McLean Trucking for shipping farmer goods. Already in 1940, a transport park expanded from a single truck to 30 vehicles. By the end of the 50s, there were already 1700 trucks and 37 container ports worth 12 million dollars.

After selling his stake in one of the largest transportation companies of the USA, Malcolm bought a navigable company Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company (renamed to SeaLand). The entrepreneur assumed that it is more beneficial to move loads by sea. This allowed saving a lot on customs duty and avoiding temporary delays. SeaLand combined types of transport that eventually showed the effectiveness of multimodal transportations.

That was later…

But at the very beginning, Malcolm was not only a company owner, but also worked as a driver, watching practically daily how slow the upload of trucks was. On one of such days, according to a popular version, McLean got an idea to move trucks on vessels.

At that time, loads packed in bags and barrels were moved manually. The whole process took a lot of time - almost a half of the whole delivery. Apart from inefficiency, this method was not very reliable in terms of cargo safety and protection. There were many robberies.

Malcolm’s idea required financing, and its realisation took around 19 years.

In order to design a container Malcolm McLean invited engineer Keith Tantlinger. He developed a 35-foot container, as well as bracings, a system of gate valves and over 100 patented inventions related to container transportation. A module had reinforced corner racks, which allowed placing boxes one on another during their shipment.

Getting a 45 million dollar credit, the businessman bought the oil tanker T-2 Portero Hills. Later, by reequipping it, it was possible to create the first container ship Ideal X. The first departure of Ideal X with 58 containers on board took place on April 26, 1956 from Newark, New Jersey to Huiston, Texas.

Everything went well: freight was safely delivered to its destination. Thereby, Malcolm managed to create a true revolution in the system of cargo shipment. Before the application of containers, the price of one tone of the transshipment was $5.86. After their use, it decreased to $0.16. A dramatic change, right?

Industry development

Considering this change, many clients decided to utilize the invention. In 1957, the first special container ship Gateway City was manufactured. McLean agreed to refit several terminals into container ports, and thus, containerization started its development.

By the way, Malcolm also thought of container standardization. this contributed to the acceleration of industry development. That is why, the businessman developed and patented a unified system of standardization, and patents were given for free.

Despite the effectiveness and obvious benefits of the innovation, the change of transportation modules moved slowly. There is no sense in thinking “what if”, but the Vietnam War took place.

Back in the days, front supplies were not regular, and McLean suggested organizing the process of the troop supply. After signing the agreement with the U.S. Government, SeaLand corporation started shipping containers with explosives and other weapons to the American military. Door-to-door principle in reality.

The testing delivery of 226 boxes shortened the shipment duration by 500%. In comparison to manual transhipment, the effectiveness raised by 600%.

Every month the company sent over thousand containers to Vietnam. Besides that, McLean agreed on the commercial use of empty containers, which were loaded on the way to the USA, with ports of Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. By 1973, around 80% of sea shipping of South-Eastern Asia was implemented with the use of containers. The following globalisation of the world economy also influenced the development of the container transportation industry.

Coming back to the main character of the article, it is important to mention that Malcolm McLean realized the importance of investments in the development of SeaLand. That is why, in 1969 SeaLand was acquired by Reynolds Tobacco Company, and McLean got a place in the Board of Directors with the largest stake. In fact, already in 1977 he left the company and lived for long, being involved in real estate, container ship construction and inventions. He also created a special mechanism for lifting patients from a stretcher to a hospital bed.

In 1999, SeaLand was bought by the Dutch corporation Maersk. It is currently called Maersk Line.

Malcolm McLean died in 2001. On the morning of his funeral, all container ships in the world blew their whistles in the memory of McLean.

Malcolm McLean is a person who contributed a lot to the development of logistics. His work continues and expands. The modern world is hard to imagine without container shipment and containers themselves that became one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.
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