As early as World War II, the Army began experimenting with using containers for shipment of supplies to the theater. Cargo was delayed at ports due to time required to load and offload ships. The Army was losing money because of pilferage and in-transit damage.
In 1948, pilot models were developed and the Transportation Corps adopted the "Transporter, Household Goods, Shipboard," commonly referred to as the "Transporter." The Transportation Corps procured 67 for testing, and along with commercial units, were tested for household good shipments between the US and overseas theaters. The "Transporter" was a rigid steel reusable container capable of carrying 9,000 pounds. It was 8'6" long, 6'3" wide, and 6"10" high. It had a double door on one end, was mounted on elevated skids and had lifting rings on the top four corners.
In 1951, an additional 100 Transporters were purchased for use within the Far East Command. Used to ship items from Japan to Korea, then by rail to forward supply points, they were evaluated for transporting sensitive, critical and valuable items. This experiment, along with the study of household goods shipments demonstrated the effectiveness of the container against damage and pilferage. It also proved the efficiency in movement of various troop materiels from the US to overseas commands. At the Port of Pusan, Korean stevedores were dropping and breaking almost 90% of the off-loaded crates. Theft and pilferage became a daily occurrence. The Army was losing 10% of all subsistence coming through the port.
In late 1952, the Transportation Corps developed the Container Express (CONEX), replacing the "Transporter." Engineering supplies and spare parts were shipped from Colombus General Depot (Georgia) to the Port of San Francisco, where they were loaded on ships to Yokohama, Japan, and on to Korea. Not only did the CONEX reduce port pilferage and breakage, but significantly reduced transportation time. A shipment that normally took about 55 days to deliver was reduced to 27 days.
During the Korea War, approximately 31.5 million tons of materiel were shipped to Korea from the United States-more than two times the tonnage shipped to Europe during World War II. The war pioneered the use of container express (CONEX) service, which began with the shipment of containers from Japan to Korea in June 1951. By November 1952, CONEX service was being tested from the United States; the average delivery time of containers from the depot at Columbus, Ohio, through the port of San Francisco to the depot at Yokohama, Japan, was 27 days.
Containers became the backbone of logistics support for Vietnam, and nearly every major Army unit moving into the theater carried their spare parts and supplies in containers. Many containers never made it back from the theater, instead being employed for other uses, such as command posts, dispensaries, portable stores, bunkers, and so forth. The containers provided millions of square feet of covered storage that the theater lacked.
Commercial industry began to develop methods of moving containers. During the Vietnam conflict, Sea-Land Container Services, Inc first introduced containerships designed only to carry containers. Inter-modal containers - those that could be shipped via rail, truck, air or ship - were then developed. Today, they are used commercially as well as by all military services. The use of inter-modal containers may possibly be the most valuable element in global transportation in most industrialized countries.
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