Portcities Southampton
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Trade in boxes

The container revolution

Containerisation has been perhaps the biggest revolution in shipping since the replacement of wind by steam power.  

Until the 1960s, relatively high-value goods such as manufactured products, food stuffs, chemicals and the more valuable raw materials such as cotton were delivered to the dockside in small packages.  They came in boxes, crates, barrels, drums or bales, or sometimes – in the case of vehicles – as they were.  These packages or items were loaded on board ship, stowed and, at the end of the voyage, unloaded individually.  This was not only time consuming and expensive, it meant that items of cargo were vulnerable to damage and theft. 

Containerisation radically changed the way cargo was carried.  It was now placed in a standard-sized container at the factory, farm or loading depot.  The container was sealed and taken by truck, train or barge to a port where it was hoisted on board a ship.  At its destination port this process was reversed and the container delivered to the customer, who unsealed and opened it.  As long as the goods had been well stowed, and conditions such as refrigeration maintained, they would be in excellent condition on arrival.