When Did Containers Arrive in the UK?

Shipping containers can be used for many things, from being converted to a building site office to the storage of water treatment systems. But shipping containers were actually originally designed (unsurprisingly) for transporting cargo around the world.

The unique design of a shipping container means that they are able to be stacked neatly, saving space on massive cargo ships, protecting their precious contents from adverse weather and rough seas, and then safely being able to be moved between different modes of transport.

This has all meant that the global economy has been boosted as we can transport parts and products between countries and continents safely, conveniently, and cost-effectively.

The History of the Shipping Container

Shipping containers in their current form were first designed by Malcom P McLean, who was a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, USA, in 1955. It was designed to overcome a number of problems faced by the transportation industry including – the time consuming and physically laborious practice of unloading sacksful or boxes full of produce and loading it onto the next transportation part of their journey, issues with security and theft, and a generally cumbersome transportation process.

The invention of the shipping container meant that the cargo could be loaded into a container, transported via freight train or lorry to a cargo ship, and loaded onto the ship using a crane – and with no need to unpack and re-pack. Not only does this save time and effort, but it is also a more secure option.

McLean purchased a steamship company, which became the first ship to use his invention but the use of shipping containers soon spread throughout the world. This led to the standardisation of the shipping containers – to 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft, and the first international cargo ship left the USA for the Netherlands in April 1966.

Shipping Containers in the UK

According to their website, the Port of Felixstowe alone handles over 4 million 20ft or equivalent shipping containers each year. The Port of Felixstowe is the UK’s busiest port for shipping containers, and their container quay opened in 1968.

Although shipping containers are seen commonly on the UK’s transport network, they can also be useful for other functions:

  • Storage is another common use. Shipping containers are built to be robust and protect their contents whilst at sea, on the road, and on rails. This means that they are an excellent option for storage. We find that some businesses and people will buy a storage container for their own use, and place it on their own land, whereas others will prefer to use a self-storage facility where they can rent a storage container for as long as they need it.
  • Some people like to customise their shipping containers for more specialised storage. This could include lithium-ion batteries which require a fire-resistant home that meets health and safety regulations, or liquid air energy, for example.
  • We are seeing more and more people re-purposing them and converting shipping containers into temporary or semi-permanent buildings. From bespoke pop-up cafes to modular accommodation, shipping containers are a cost-effective, eco-friendly option that offers you a high degree of flexibility over their structure and layout.

Shipping containers have been used by the UK population for over 50 years, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change any time soon. Whether it is for carrying cargo, storage, or something more imaginative, shipping containers are the perfect solution due to their stack-ability, strong structure, and design versatility.