Is the word “freight” part of your everyday vocabulary? If not, you probably haven’t worked in a business or industry that needs to ship goods or commodities in large quantities. That’s what freight shipping (or freight transport) is all about, though.

But if freight is not part of your daily routine, should it matter to you at all? The answer is, “yes.” Without freight shipping, we might never have access to anything that isn’t grown, mined, refined, produced, or otherwise available where we live.

Besides, the freight shipping industry has a long and fascinating story. We’ll share that and more in this article. So stay tuned.

What Is Freight Shipping?

Freight (or cargo) refers to goods or commodities in transit, most often for commercial purposes—by water, air, or land. This could include anything, for example, automobiles or clothing ready for sale, or unprocessed milk or produce.

Freight is anything tangible that can be bought and sold in large quantities. In the shipping industry, there is a distinction between freight and parcels. The latter are smaller items—transported alone or in small groups.

From ancient times through today, ocean shipping has been the predominant means of transporting goods and commodities. Thus, the term “shipping” is still used today for most types of bulk transport.

Freight Shipping History

Ancient Egypt is known for launching maritime trade around 3200 BCE. Its large wind-powered ships traveled around the Mediterranean at first. Eventually, they connected with East Asian trade routes.

In later millennia, European nations like Spain, Portugal, England, the Netherlands, and France set sail to start trading with other countries. It also was for conquest.

The explorations began with the Mediterranean. Later, they ventured to the Indian Ocean, East Asia, and the North Atlantic, including the Caribbean.

With the Industrial Era, steamships and railroads superseded the traditional sail-driven ships. The latter had brought Europeans to the New World. The new conveyances introduced previously unseen degrees of power and convenience.

Freight Shipping in the Twentieth Century

In the early 1900s, trucks were added to the railroads as a ground-shipping option. Then, in the 1950s, the Interstate Highway System’s construction turned trucking into viable competition for trains.

Between then and 1970, the percentage of ground shipping held by trucking grew from one percent to 20%. Then, in the 1990s, the trucking industry’s deregulation increased the number from 18,000 (in 1975) to over 500,000 (by the year 2000).

Since then, many innovations in shipping and delivery services have altered the now-multifaceted shipping industry’s role. What’s new includes next-day delivery and global door-to-door shipping.

Shipping Containers

Would you believe that shipping containers have only existed for 64 years? Yes, in 1955, trucking magnate and entrepreneur Malcolm P. McLean took on a challenge. Having grown frustrated with the slow process of transferring freight from trucks to ships.

He convinced the transportation innovator Keith Tantlinger to work with him on a more efficient way to store and transport cargo. Tantlinger came up with a locking system for the edges of existing cargo storage containers.

This closed-off individual container, allowing them to be moved easily from one transportation mode to another. McLean then acquired an oil tanker and customized it to accommodate a new modular form of freight transportation.

McLean’s ship, the Ideal X, was up to the job. By the end of the decade, container shipping was in full gear. Numerous dockside cranes were moving shipping containers off trucks and trains and onto ships.

Piracy in Ocean Shipping

What is a pirate like in the early 2020s? We’d have to say that modern-day pirates are the same as pirates of old: criminals. Most of today’s pirates operate differently, though, using speed boats out of port cities rather than roaming the high seas.

Consider modern-day pirate ships as you would think about vessels transporting terrorists. Today’s pirates are not like Captain (Henry) Morgan of rum-flavored liqueur fame, the fictional Jack Sparrow, or any of the legendary pirates we know.

Pirates today have added cruise-ship tourists to their repertoire. They still do this by plunder, kidnapping, and often marooning, though. So some things don’t change. Pirates are a threat to take seriously—for tourists and cargo haulers alike.

The Continuing Role of Ships in Shipping

Pirates or not, ocean shipping is thriving today. Of the 108 trillion tonne-kilometers transported worldwide in 2015, 70 percent was by sea. Another 18 percent was by road, nine percent by rail, two by inland waterway, and less than a quarter of a percent by air.

Clearly, ships will continue to play an essential role in freight shipping in the years ahead. We marvel at the fact that they started global trade, and they’re still at the top of it.

The Benefits of Ocean Shipping

Pirates notwithstanding, there are a lot of benefits to freight shipping using ocean ships. The wind-propelled sailing ships of olden times were probably the most environmentally friendly vessels to traverse the seas.

Still, compared to modern air and road transport, ships look pretty good. Plus, the ocean freight shipping industry has also been considering alternative energy sources for their vessels.

Furthermore, each ocean-going freight vessel travels nearly 1.5 million miles in a year. That’s what we would call an effective use of resources. So if you’re looking for freight solutions that work, don’t rule out good old-fashioned ships for your freight shipping needs.

Still Bored?

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tale of shipping channels in the Ancient World, modern-day pirate ships, and a shipping container innovation that changed the world. We’ll bet that you’ll never again consider freight shipping “boring.”

And we’ll remind you that without shipping containers and the freight they carry all over the world, you would be in some dire straits. Maybe living off the land in your village or bartering with people in the next community over.

By the way, we have some exciting innovations going on here and now in Arizona. Why not check out our website so you can catch up on the goings-on out here?