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Today, the container is as much part of your everyday as, eh, a mobile phone. Just like the mobile phone, it is as if the container has been part of us, of world trade, forever. But it has not. The container does not come in all sizes, but despite that it holds a very significant portion of things produced in one end of the world and sold in all markets.

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 “This really low-tech invention…has done more for global trade than anything else” (Søren Skou, 2012).

 

Boxes for the transport of goods came in many forms before 1956, but it widely recognized that containerisation as a concept was initiated when Malcom McLean shipped 58 containers from Newark, New Jersey, on 26 April 1956.

 

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Malcom McLean established Sea-Land and became the true first mover of containerization. Sea-Land was acquired by Maersk in 1999.

 

The first containers that were introduced in the United States were 16, 24 or 35 feet long – shipping companies were marketing their size as the optimal one to retain customers.

However, for the wider penetration of the container, standardisation was needed.

 

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Early Maersk Line containers in transit from our break-bulk terminal at Pier 11 in Brooklyn, New York.

 

The dimensions for the standard container as we know it today, were agreed in 1964 – the original standard called for 8 feet high x 8 feet wide and variable lengths of 10, 20, 30 and 40 feet. The 20 and 40 feet containers won in the market; shipowners started ordering ships and train cars and truck chassis were adapted to meet the new dimensions.

 

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 Our first dedicated container train was introduced in the United States in 1986.

 

The genius of today’s container shipping is inter-modalism; a container with its content can be moved from one form of transport to another – from ship to train to truck. What’s inside stays inside, well protected.

That might seem obvious today, but the impact on insurance cost (that came down) and port efficiency (which went up) was unimaginable when the standard container entered the market from the mid-1960’s.

The fixed dimensions of the container would make transporting goods five times more efficient than the conventional break-bulk cargo ships.

The first international shipment – from the United States to Europe – of a twenty-foot container took place in 1966, and from then on, the container did not look back. Slowly, but surely, it became the system that best fit the shipper’s needs from a cost and effectiveness standpoint.

 

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Customers throughout South East Asia quickly took advantage of shipping in containers. Even in early days without container cranes, the efficiency gains in cargo handling were dramatic.

 

The container, and the entire shipping industry delivering the world’s goods end-to-end, has become the main facilitators of the globalisation of trade. Today, a company can choose to have its headquarters in one part of the world, its production facilities in another and sell its brands in all markets. Because of the container and low-cost, efficient shipping.

Maersk Line 90 years

Maerskline has been in business for 90 years, from break-bulk to containers. The first voyage was on 12 July 1928. Explore the full story below.

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HOME

Part 1 – Beginnings

1928 saw the initiative that has evolved into today’s Maersk Line.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 2 – Expansion

Today, we connect all corners of the world and port calls happen several times every hour, but it all started with one route and monthly departures in 1928…
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 3 – Container

Boxes for the transport of goods came in many forms before 1956, but it widely recognized that containerisation as a concept was initiated when Malcom McLean shipped 58 containers from Newark, New Jersey, on 26 April 1956.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 4 – Logistics

Maersk’s entry into logistics started in 1977, two years after the introduction of the containerized service on the USA-Asia route.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 5 – Special Cargo

Maersk Line has moved special cargo since well before the container was introduced and we still do.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 6 – IT and Systems

From the early 1980’s, MCS (Maersk Communications System) made it possible “to communicate globally.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 7 – Refrigerated Containers

Global reefer trade surpassed 221 million tonnes in the year 2016 with an annual growth rate of 3.2% over the past decade.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 8 – Terminals

In 2016, world container port throughput reached 701 million TEUs. With the top 40 container ports handling almost 60 percent of the world total.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 9 – Growth in the world economy

Today’s trade is global. Since the first sea-borne container transport took place in 1956, the shipping and logistics industry has been one of the main facilitators of the globalisation of trade.
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PART 1 – BEGINNINGS

Part 10 – Branding

The white seven-pointed star on a blue background has represented Maersk since its very formation in 1904. Along with our distinctive blue colour, terminals, vessels and containers across the world have been showcasing our name and logo since the very beginning.

Learn more about Maersk and containerisation