Written By North Carolina History Project

Containers have been used for centuries as a means to transport goods.  Containerization, as it is known today, started in the 1950s with a North Carolina trucker’s imagination and desire to improve transportation efficiency.   After a series of regulatory setbacks, Malcolm McLean sold his trucking company and devoted all his finances and energy to making his container shipping business (Sea Land) a thriving success.

Although containers had been used in Canada and in Europe, containerization started in the U.S. in 1956, when Ideal-X successfully transported goods in containers from Newark, New Jersey to Houston, Texas.  The U.S. method was new: the containers were never opened in transit and the containers were detachable and standardized to fit onto trucks, railroad cars, or ships.  Eventually containerization was standardized across the globe.  When Interstate Commerce Commission’s regulation was scaled back during the 1980s, containerization became more popular in the United States and more and more goods were transported to the country.

Few imagined the containerization’s widespread influence.  Business leaders had predicted correctly that McLean’s containerization would replace older transportation methods.  They failed to envision how the North Carolinian’s innovation ultimately increased goods production and global trade.  According to the latest statistics, approximately 90% of the world’s non-bulk cargo is shipped via containers and approximately 26% of all goods shipped via containerization originate from China.