History of the container

Containers have been used for centuries to transport goods. It is only since 1980 that standardised dimensions are applied in container shipping. During the First World War, containers were already used by the Americans to carry ammunition to Europe. Not much later, containers were widely used for transport by rail. By making use of containers, goods could more easily be loaded from a train onto a truck. 

Malcolm McLean

In the United States, the use of containers for sea freight grew explosively. Initially, the US transportation company Malcolm McLean only arranged sea fright shipping between destinations on the US mainland, Puerto Rico, Alaska, the Dominican Republic and Panama. Later, during the Vietnam War, container vessels were deployed to get goods to the front as soon as possible.

Container transport in Europe

It wasn’t until the 60s that the container business started to pick up in Europe. In April 1966, United States Lines (USL) started the first scheduled container service to Europe across the Atlantic. To this end they partially equipped four freighters with container carriers. The first ship of this scheduled container service to arrive in Rotterdam was the "American Racer". Along with three sister ships, the American Racer started maintaining a weekly service between the ports of the east coast of America and Rotterdam. The USL vessels were loaded and unloaded at the Muller Progress terminal, located in the Princess Beatrix port.  

First dedicated container ship in Rotterdam: the "Fairland"

The first transatlantic service with fully dedicated container carriers was launched a month later by Sea-land inc., a company owned by Malcolm McLean. The first ship sailing in this service, the “Fairland”, arrived in the port of Rotterdam on May 3 after departing from Elizabeth, New Jersey, on April 23 carrying 226 35'ft containers. Besides Rotterdam, the vessel also called at the ports of Bremen and Grangemouth. 


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