Malcom McLean: The “Father of Containerization”

Malcom McLean is the American transport entrepreneur known best for revolutionizing transport and international trade by spearheading the widespread adoption of the shipping container.

He was a self-made business man who started his career pumping gas at a service station before saving enough money to buy a used truck. From there, he started a trucking company and worked initially as one of the drivers before eventually building his company, McLean Trucking, into the second-largest trucking company in the United States.

After World War II, when trucks were first transported on ships, McLean took the concept and applied it stateside to commercial trucking endeavors. He came to eventually develop the metal shipping container after becoming frustrated at the long wait times (and related loss of productivity) his truck drivers experienced while waiting for their trucks to be unloaded or loaded at the port using traditional break bulk methods.

How It Started

The concept started with plans to transport the trucks and their cargo on ships, but was modified due to the waste in cargo space that could be eliminated by simply shipping the cargo. The idea was re-worked and McLean began shipping the containers separate from the chassis and was instrumental in the standardization of container sizes. He would go on to start a steamship liner transportation company that pioneered the intermodal cargo transport business.

McLean’s integrated approach to moving goods from Point A to Point B, in addition to his securing enormous cranes – the same ones used by the lumber yards in the Pacific Northwest – to use at the ports to speed the loading and unloading process of containers – led to the complete overhaul of the global shipping industry.

So as we approach the anniversary of the container king’s birthday, we’d like to take a moment to remember all of the hard work and innovation that went into building the transportation, logistics and container shipping industry as we know it.

Thank you, Malcom.

For additional reading regarding how McLean’s efforts during the Vietnam War led to the container revolution, check out this long-form excerpt from Marc Levinson’s The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.

And for detailed information and vital contact information for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, be sure to download a free copy of our Comprehensive Port Service Guide.