History of containersBefore the invention of the intermodal shipping container, goods were shipped in boxes of various sizes that had to be loaded and unloaded on and from ships manually by workers. Transporting goods this way was inefficient, expensive, and time-consuming. Moreover, it made loading cargo on different modes of transport overly difficult. When the first standardized intermodal shipping container was introduced in the 1950s, it caused a revolution in world trade. Shipping containers reduced both time and costs of shipping and enabled containerized goods to be easily moved between different means of transport. Efforts to improve the shipping container continued and in the 1970s, a refrigerated container (reefer) was invented. This means that even perishable goods such as food can be transported by sea, making container shipping even more popular. Between 2017 and 2026, the size of the intermodal freight transportation market is expected to almost triple, reaching the size of over 36 billion U.S. dollars in 2026.
Leading container portsIn 2019, the leading container-handling ports worldwide were located in the Asia-Pacific region. The port of Shanghai was the busiest container port in the world, handling over 43 million TEUs of containerized cargo in 2019. Outside the Asia-Pacific regions, North America and Europe are also important hubs for containerized cargo. In its 2020 fiscal year, the Port of Los Angeles handled almost 8.6 million TEUs, making it the largest container port in the United States. In Europe, the Port of Rotterdam processed the most containers in 2020, some 8.4 million.
* The abbreviation TEU stands for the twenty-foot equivalent unit, a standard unit of measure in the shipping industry.