Since the 1950s, steel shipping containers have been used to either store goods or transport them. First, they were utilised for road transport, then railways and finally via sea. Today, shipping containers are typically used to convey cargo between major cities of the world. Most often, these containers are employed for only one-way journey. Afterwards, these prefabricated shipping containers are left as is, which lead to their conversion into modular homes and portable offices.
From the UAE to the US, converted shipping containers have become popular across the globe. But where did the idea come from? Who created the first converted shipping container? That’s the topic of discussion here — the history of converting prefabricated shipping containers.
When Was The First Shipping Container Converted?
The experts in the UAE and around the world say Philip C Clark was the first individual to believe that shipping containers could be converted into feasible buildings. But there is ample evidence of even earlier interest. In 1962, Betjemann Christopher of the Insbrandtsen Company applied for a US patent for his mobile showcase. Made for trade fairs using a cargo shipping container, the mobile showcase was split into two areas. It has two doors on the sides, which could be raised to create a canopy.
The mobile showcase was meant to transport the exhibited goods from one continent to another. Betjemann was granted the US patent in 1965. In comparison, Clark filed the patent in 1987 and received it in 1989! Philip Clark’s patent had a precise technique on how to convert “one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building at a building site”. It also spoke about how such a building could be used as a home.
Clark gave a more detailed explanation on the various ways shipping containers could be utilised, such as:
- Two or more containers could be abutted side by side.
- Multiple containers could be mounted over each other.
- Inner walls of the containers could be removed to increase the area.
- A door for access and a window for ventilation can be installed.
- A drop ceiling on the top wall of the container could be applied.
The Birth Of Prefabricated Shipping Containers
By 1996, people realised that Clark’s method had a significant drawback. His shipping containers had to be constructed on-site, which was burdensome on the wallet. Therefore, James G Wiley, Jr, and Steve Forney came up with a prefabricated shipping container method for which they were granted a US patent in 1998.
Their technique employed a core steel container to fabricate a modular building. The inner and outer wall of the building were secured to corrugated walls of the shipping container. The floor of the container turned into the subflooring, and the laminate ceiling of the steel container was secured inside the “roof.”
The actual patent for a “container for prefabricated transportable buildings” was applied in 1998 by CHM Manufacturing. This patent took away the need to buy shipping container units and then transform them. CHM Manufacturing proposed to build standard size steel containers that were self-contained. These prefabricated shipping container buildings would have all the aspects of a double-storey family home or a duplex. Barring water connection and sewer line, everything else would be installed before shipping, even electrical wires. The company was granted a detailed patent in 2002.
When Were Shipping Container Buildings First Used?
The most popular first-use of converted shipping containers was in 1985 in the low-budget film Space Rage: Breakout on Prison Planet. Set in a futuristic town, the movie showcased saloons, general stores, houses and prison. Each of these building was made from either a 20ft or 40ft shipping container.
Since then, shipping containers have been widely used not only in films sets but in real life too. From tiny, eco-friendly houses to big apartment communities that utilise hundreds of containers, converted shipping containers have become hugely popular all over the world. Clever connections, great design and insulating material that covers the corrugated steel walls have put them in high demand even in the retail industry.
From pop-ups to portable shops, some of the biggest brands in UAE employ prefabricated shipping containers to hawk their wares. Homes and offices are merely the most common use of sea containers; there are endless more like mobile cafes and eateries.
With an office in UAE, SITUAE has a plethora of prefabricated shipping container products. Our designers and experts can convert a sea container into an office, a clinic, a retail store, a workshop or any other building. If you have been searching for an affordable and hassle-free method of constructing a home or office, get in touch with us. SITUAE will be happy to provide you with a converted shipping container solution for your needs and within your budget!