Shipping containers, also known as intermodal containers or ISO containers, are a unique and successful example of international cooperation. They’re so ubiquitous because they’re very useful and economical. Containers such as the ones we see today were first used by the US military during World War II to standardize train shipment of supplies. The Army noticed how much more efficient their transport system had suddenly become, and after the war everyone started using them. Eventually the size and parameters of containers was standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO containers are so useful because they can be shuttled from one mode of transport to another–for example, offloaded from a ship and put directly onto a train–without unloading. There are about 17,000,000 of these handy little steel boxes throughout the world. Various types have been adapted for special uses, for example, refrigerated containers for perishable goods and tank containers for liquids.
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