The steel box is probably one of the most revolutionary elements of the shipping industry because it allowed for the transportation of large amounts of cargo over large distances. It has been an invaluable addition to the industry since it broadly reflects some of the important changes that have taken place within the industry over the past six decades.
The best steel box containers are able to withstand the principle challenges of transporting goods by sea including:
[a] The heaviness of the cargo
[b] The security considerations for shipping
[c] Avoidance of rat and pest infestations
[d] Easy handling from loading to offloading
There is a wide variety of options available for shipping. At the top end are the reusable that are excellent for intermodal shipments. At the lower end are the purpose-built corrugated boxes.
Currently there are about 17 million intermodal containers around the globe. However, about 7 million of them are abandoned at the destination because it is not cost-effective to ship them back to the country of origin.
The Pre-1956 Era
The old shipping methods were very much geared towards manual operations. Although they helped to build interpersonal relationships among the shippers, they were also cumbersome and expensive procedures. The early innovators went through many teething problems before the final product was on the market.
Some of the difficulties that were faced included:
 Everything had to be counted and loaded in by hand
 The wooden pallets used could not cope with the load
 Hoisting the pallet in the air was a particularly challenging task
 Nothing could be done without the willing support of strong and dedicated employees on shore.
Container Shipping After 1956
Once the idea of a steel shipping box had been established in the industry, it heralded important changes. It is that box that has fueled the rapid economic transformation of China, a major influencer and contributor to international trade. The box has actually been credited with increasing globalization, with all the attendant challenges to world stability.
Consequences of the Box
As a result of the success of the steel box, it was widely adopted in the industry. The reduced shipping costs brought in new players in an industry that would otherwise have been beyond their reach. New destinations were opening up to aid the transformation into a globalized world. The steel box has become a fixture in the industry and it is inconceivable that the industry would ever do without it.
The Industry Today
Now that the box is established, the industry is looking for even more efficient technologies. The starting point is in ensuring that the boxes that are used can be recycled so that the toll on the environment is reduced. This is in line with the expectations of corporate social equity in the shipping industry today.
The Future of Shipping
The shipping industry is always looking to evolve in order to deal with the challenges of the future. Although speed is now at its zenith, the overall issue of efficiency has not yet been definitively resolved. Ocean shipping is an expensive endeavor, even though it is much cheaper than using an airplane. For the moment the steel box has a certain future that will involve ferrying millions of dollars’ worth of goods across thousands of miles.
A shipping industry without its iconic steel box would not be where we are today. Certainly, a powerhouse like China would not have achieved even a fraction of what it has achieved so far to date. Nevertheless, the steel box may undergo even more modifications in order to make it fit for future purposes.