How big is a shipping container?

A standard ISO 20 foot freight container has inside dimensions of 19’5” (length) by 7’8” (wide) by 7’9.5” (high). The container itself weighs 4189 pounds, and has a dry capacity of 48,721 pounds, and a volume of 1,165 cubic feet. These are immutable facts, set by the International Organization for Standardization. You can purchase a handbook from the ISO that tells you everything you want to know about shipping containers.

To send a 20 foot container full of food from the U.S. east coast to the port of Rotterdam costs about $1700 US.

The “founding father of the freight container” was Malcolm McLean, who died in 2001. In a tribute to McLean, United States Commissioner of Customs, Robert C. Bonner related the history:

Malcolm McLean invented the shipping container in the 1930s in New Jersey, while sitting at a dock waiting all day for cargo he had carried there in his truck to be reloaded onto a ship. He figured out a better way to pack goods and transport them by sea - which was to secure them in large steel boxes that could be easily loaded onto ships. And in so doing he came up with an idea that changed the face of global trade.

SeaLand, the company that McLean founded, is now Maersk-Sealand, having merged with the Maersk Line in 1999. It’s difficult to drive down any highway, or through any port, anywhere, without seeing a container with Maersk painted on the side.