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Malcolm McLean- The Inventor of ISO Shipping Containers

Malcolm McLean

Malcom Purcell McLean (born “Malcolm”; but late in life he changed his given name to its historic traditional Scottish spelling) (November 14, 1913 – May 25, 2001), born in Maxton, North Carolina, was an American entrepreneur, often called "the father of containerization".

In 1956, he developed the metal shipping container, which replaced the traditional break bulk method of handling dry goods and revolutionized the transport of goods and cargo worldwide. He later founded Sea-Land Service, Inc., one of the pioneers in the intermodal cargo transport business. McLean was named "Man of the Century" by the International Maritime Hall of Fame. History of Shipping Containers.

Many people think the Shipping Container was invented in China. ...not true.The first shipping container was invented and patented in 1956 by an American named Malcolm Mc Lean. Mc Lean was not an ocean shipper, but was a trucker and by 1956 he owned the largest trucking fleet in the South and the fifth largest trucking company in all the United States. He saved his money and bought his first truck in 1934. During those years all cargo was loaded and unloaded in odd sized wooden crates. The process was very slow and certainly not standardized. After observing this slow and inefficient process for 20 years, he finally decided to step back and develop some standardized way of loading cargo from trucks to ships and warehouses. Malcolm then purchased Pan Atlantic Tanker Company, which owned a bunch of fairly rusted tankers. He re-named the new shipping company Sea-Land Shipping. With this shipping company he could finally experiment with better ways to load and un-load trucks and ships.

After many experiments, his final design is what we know now as the Shipping Container....super strong, uniform design, theft resistant, and easy to load, unload, truck, rail, ship, and certainly store. Because is was so much faster and organized to load/unload, the cost of loading freight was reduced by more than 90%. Thus, the cost of products you sell or buy were reduced greatly becauseof the shipping container. In 1956, loose cargo cost $5.86 per ton to load... Using an ISO shipping container, the cost was reduced to only .16 cents per ton. The shipping container invention of Malcolm Mc Leanhas certainly changed the world and thus, has changed the lives of every human on the planet. McLean also developed non-maritime inventions, including a means of lifting a patient from a stretcher onto a hospital bed.

sources: ISBU Association, Wikipedia


Alan Schrauben

Alan Schrauben wrote

For a man who -as this article states- "certainly changed the world", this man remains undetected on the radar of history. His story would be good History Channel stuff.

Lee Bullard

Lee Bullard wrote

Malcom was my dads first cousin, malcons dad was my dads mother brother. I met Malcolm when I was small . I would like to meet some of his relatives I went to school in maxton graduated in 1955.

Jason Miller

Jason Miller wrote

The invention of the shipping container was so simple but incredibly genious. China owes Mr. Mclean a thank you for they would not be where they are today without his invention.

Sharon McLain Towler

Sharon McLain Towler wrote

I had a great grandfather named Malcolm McLain I wonder if there is any connection


My father worked for Sealand along with Malcomb's brother William "Bill" in Tampa. Bill was a wonderful person ,as well as Myra his wife. I grew up playing with Lele, William Jr and Paul his childred. I often wonder how they doing. What good memories with the Mclain family.

dan Rodriguez

dan Rodriguez wrote

Malcolm got/copied his system from a small Mighty Badd Seattle/Alaska shipping/ company called "Ocean Van Lines " in 1952. Cargo shipped from ship/Truck/Rail to your door in containers. Malcolm bought the chief engineer to their system....4 years later he became famous.

Ocean Van Lines - Seattle Times Aug. 1952