According to our research, the first shipping container building that was officially documented and recognized was designed by a man named Phillip Clark in 1987. Phillip filed for a patent in the United States of America named the “Method for converting one or more steel shipping containers into habitable building”. He was granted his patent two years later in 1989. Mr. Clark is widely recognized as having building the first shipping container home because of his patent, however it is debatable because the idea had already been presented by a British Architect named Nicholas Lacey in his college thesis during the 1970’s. Besides this, there are two other cases where the idea of using steel shipping containers as buildings were publicized. The first time was in 1985 on the production set of the movie “Space Rage” where the steel containers were used to make several buildings. The second instance was in 1962 when a man named Christoper Betjemann was named as the inventor in a patent titled “Combination shipping container and showcase” filed by Insbrandtsen Company Inc. So while Mr. Phillip gets most of the credit, it seems the idea was probably floating around in people’s minds almost as soon as the containers themselves were standardized.
When a man named Malcolm McLean created the shipping container, he most likely had no idea what his creation would turn into. Not only did he revolutionize the shipping industry when creating the intermodal containers, he also (eventually) revolutionized the building industry when people started creating buildings and houses out of them. Since they were internationally standardized, used steel shipping containers have been used for all sorts of things including shaved ice stands, shopping malls, apartment buildings, large stairs, swimming pools and bunkers. It seems that people’s imaginations are the limit when it comes to what you can build with a metal shipping container.
But why were they standardized? In 1955, McLean was convinced his idea of a standard container would help his business become more efficient and grow. They did exactly that. Because of his ideas to make containers in standard sizes, and his next step of buying and modifying an oil tanker to fit 58 of his containers, McLean ended up revolutionizing both the transportation industry and the cargo industry. He may not have rocked the world with his ideas as he created them, but it didn’t take long for the ideas to catch on and for the world to begin to accept this new way of shipping.
When Clark wrote his patent, he also outlined his thoughts on how these steel shipping containers were perfect for modular building as well as how economical they were when used as homes. These shipping containers were basically created around 1955, and it only took 10 years for people to begin thinking about using them for homes. But WHY? Well, we covered the fact that there are a ton more of these steel boxes in the United States than elsewhere because we import a lot more than we export. This means we are bringing in more containers than we are sending back out, creating a surplus. (Read more about it in this article.) Clearly, not all the containers we get are useable for shipping anymore, and so people wanted another way to “recycle” them. But melting them down takes enough energy to heat a US home for one year while using these big steel boxes for homes only takes 5% of the same amount of energy. No brainer, here.
These containers work well for these small homes because they are strong. They are durable. They are made to last for a long time in the harshest conditions. They are also easily customized and made to fit together in a number of different ways that do not compromise their strength or durability. All of these things make them a great building material for tiny homes, office buildings, or larger homes (among other things).
Ever since the first steel tiny home, people have created all sorts of things from these containers. There are architects and contractors that have experience using the containers and this helps create amazing structures and uses for what would otherwise be just a big steel box sitting in a shipping yard somewhere. We’ve covered quite a few projects that have been built since those first patents were created, and we enjoy looking at the new ideas that people come up with. We’ve seen everything from stairs, apartments, office buildings, art installations, wine cellars, to bunkers, shopping malls, food shops, and mobile offices. Below, you can see some of the photos we’ve found from across the internet, to give you an idea.
Coffee Shop from Steel Shipping Containers
Image from: https://inhabitat.com/old-shipping-container-is-converted-into-a-chic-coffee-shop-in-johannesburg/
Swimming Pool from a Shipping Container
Shipping Container Apartment Complex
Steel Shipping Container Hotel
Shipping Container Tiny Home
These are just a few of the projects people have created from used (and new) shipping containers, as the trend has caught on. Stay tuned to our newest articles as we cover news, projects, and other relevant shipping container information as it comes up. And if you’re ever in the market for your own container, we would be happy to help! Call Tuff Box at 855-861-2872 to get your free quote with delivery!