Shipping containers are used for anywhere from 10-25 years, based on our research. This number can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer or country to country due to differences in requirements, regulations, materials used, and the weather they have to survive through. In this article, we’re going to go over the history of the storage container’s beginnings, how they are made, how they are used, and where to travel to while they are being used at sea so you can get an idea of why and how they are used for that long.
In 1955, a man named Malcom P. McLean was a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina. He had bought himself a steamship company with the idea of eventually being able to transport the entire trucks’ trailers with their cargo still inside, rather than the “normal” way of unloading the contents and reloading onto another form of transport. He ingeniously realized how much easier and faster it would be to have one container lifted from a truck directly onto a ship. Through a system of "intermodalism", containers could be moved easily between trucks, boats, and even trains. This change simplified the whole process for McLean and even led to a revolution in both the transportation industry and international trade worldwide. Noted economist, Marc Levinson, even goes so far as to suggest that the container and container shipping are largely responsible for the growth of global trade.
In 1961, the international standards for container sizes were agreed upon and in 1966 the first international voyage of a container ship set sail. It only took roughly 10 years for the first converted container ship to get customized, showing how easily and quickly these changes took the world by storm. Because of these changes, containers themselves also started to become much more standardized as well.
This great video from the Wall Street Journal will explain more about the history and importance of the storage container:
Of course, to get to actual transportation, you have to have the container to fill. A shipping container starts as a giant roll of steel. The steel is unrolled and cut into several sheets with very advanced machinery systems. These steel sheets are then prepared by getting sand blasted and primed to clean them of dirt, rust, and other contaminants. After getting cleaned and prepped, the sheets are corrugated -- folded/creased in a series of parallel ridges and furrows -- to give them more overall strength, for when they are added into the final product.
The roof and flooring are created separately while the sheets for the wall pieces are welded together and square tubing is added to the top of them. After the tubing is added, floor panels are assembled to create the floor’s frame, while the door assembly and corners are created separately. Now the door is ready to be installed on the floor frame, and the walls follow suit shortly afterward.
Finally, the corner posts, wall panels, and door assemblies are all welded together and then the container is ready for priming and painting. Once painted, wooden frames are varnished and prepared for the flooring panels. Once the flooring panels are attached, the door hardware gets installed along with the rubber seals for the watertight doors. The whole thing is then tested for water tightness or any other errors before getting approved for use.
See the process in action in this video from BigSteelBox:
While there is no specific answer, because of the many different manufacturers creating them, we found both this answer and this answer saying the consensus is that most used containers are about 10 years old and can last from about 10-18 more years after they are “retired” from being used for shipping on the seas.
Obviously, this number can vary depending on the manufacturer, the material used to construct the container, the kind of materials and cargo it carried, and where it was shipped to and from on a regular basis.
Storage containers were created for “intermodel” shipping, where they could be used interchangeably, and they rose to popularity for international trade and transportation beginning in the 1960’s. Because of this, you can find shipping companies moving containers from China to Africa; from the North America to Australia. Anywhere a ship can take cargo, these storage containers were created to get there, too. If a port can move the containers, the containers will probably be there!
Shipping containers are used for a wide variety of uses, including swimming pools, houses, garages, or other kind of storage containment. We have written a few articles highlighting several of these new uses for shipping containers which you can find here:
Overall, storage containers were created to be versatile and interchangeable, which leads to being very handy in the transportation industry as well as when they are retired for other use. In this day where everyone wants to try and reduce, reuse, and recycle, these containers have found new life in their owners’ culture of DIY uses as well as in architecture, especially in recent years. For more information on getting your own storage container for an upcoming construction project, or DIY idea, give Tuff Box a call at 855-861-2872.