Malcom McLean solves a problem

  • In 1937, during a routine delivery to the port in North Carolina for shipment, McLean had to stay behind until his cargo had been loaded onto the ship.
  • He sat for hours watching dozens of hands load thousands of packages onto the ship. It was a diverse assortment of barrels, boxes, bags, crates, and drums. (A typical ship contained as many as 200,000 individual pieces of cargo and the time it took to load and unload the cargo often equaled the time that the vessel needed to sail between ports.)
  • He realized the waste of time and money and wondered about a better alternative.
  • He initially thought to load entire trucks onboard a ship but realized that it would waste cargo space.
  • He modified his idea, so only the containers were loaded onto the ship, not the trucks' chassis. The containers were also designed to stack on top of one another.

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Malcolm McLean

McLean, first an American truck driver and later a businessman, developed the modern intermodal shipping container.

The development of standardized shipping containers significantly reduced the cost of transporting cargo across the world.

  • Malcolm McLean was born in November 1913 in Maxton, North Carolina.
  • He graduated from high school in 1935 and began working as a driver for his sibling's trucking company.
  • In 1956, Malcom McLean secured a bank loan for $22 million. He bought two WWII tanker ships and converted them to carry his containers. Later that year, one of his ships was loaded with 58 containers and sailed from New Jersey to Houston.
  • Mclean could offer transport prices that were 25% lower than his competitor. He could also lock the containers to prevent cargo theft.

As the advantage of MacLean's container system became apparent, bigger ships, more sophisticated containers, and larger cranes to load cargo were developed.

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