The Conex box – another name for standard ISO steel containers – was one of the most important innovations in global shipping. Its invention revolutionized how goods made it from the factory to the store shelf. In fact, the global economy has a lot to do with the invention.
Today, some 20 million of these steel containers exist in the world. And containers make it possible to ship products the world over.
But how did the Conex shipping crate come to be?
The answer: The history of Conex shipping crates is closely tied to the U.S. military. These steel containers offered an ideal solution for moving equipment and supplies in wartime, and they were widely deployed during the Korea and Vietnam wars.
Ultimately, a U.S. entrepreneur perfected and standardized this design, leading to the commercialization of steel containers in global shipping.
The Transporter: The Original Steel Container
During World War II, the U.S. Army began to experiment with using containers for shipping. Before the invention of the portable storage container, military shipments were often delayed in port. Shipments had to be unloaded by hand, which significantly slowed supplies getting to the front lines.
These experiments led to the invention of the “Transporter,” an early prototype of the Conex box.
The Transporter was much smaller than today’s 20- and 40-foot steel containers. It measured about 8 feet by 6 feet and stood 6 foot tall. The Transporter could carry 9,000 pounds, featured corrugated steel walls, and could be lifted from roof-mounted steel rings.
The problem: The Transporter couldn’t be stacked, and its doors couldn’t efficiently deter theft.
In 1952, the military improved upon the Transporter. They developed the Container Express (CONEX) box, which included many new innovations. The biggest difference: These steel containers could be stacked three high, and due to improved weatherproofing and locking, they were more successful at protecting supplies and preventing theft.
Additionally, a smaller unit, measuring about half the size – 4 ft x 3 ft – was introduced. This made it possible to stack containers in a variety of ways. And CONEX shipping crates reduced delivery time by half.
CONEX boxes, thusly, became widely used during the Vietnam War. In fact, the military shipped about 300,000 portable storage containers during the 1960s.
Commercialization of the Conex Box
In the 1950s, Malcom McLean, a U.S. entrepreneur, revolutionized the Conex portable container.
At the time, McLean reinvented the steel container. Specifically, McLean used a 33-foot design and included upgrades that made it possible to stack containers in greater heights and made containers easier to load and unload.
One advantage: Conex containers greatly reduced loading coasts, from about $6 a ton to just 16 cents! Additionally, the containers could be easily loaded onto train cars or trucks; this made it possible to ship goods faster than ever before.
Ultimately, McLean also helped to standardize the industry.
He saw the importance of having standard sizes across all manufacturers. Therefore, no matter the point of origin, cranes in every port could handle the container. Today, the 20- and 40-foot steel container sizes are all thanks to McLean’s vision.
Conex Boxes Still in Use Today
These days, many of the U.S. military and McLean’s container innovations are still in use.
Containers continue to feature corrugated walls – which increase strength – and dual interlocking doors remain a prominent feature. Thanks to standard sizes, today’s containers are also modular and can be stacked in many different configurations.
Plus, containers now have many uses beyond shipping. Used steel containers are being used to build houses, for storage, for mobile offices, bathrooms, and even farms.
Looking for a used Conex cargo crate? K&K Containers is your source. We offer used and custom containers – contact us now to learn about your options.