50 years of container handling in hamburg

The first full containership in the Port of Hamburg, the ‘American Lancer’, was handled on the 31st of May 1968. It was the beginning of a new age and set the tone for the port’s development. In 2018, we’re going to properly celebrate this date. After all, container handling with its volume of 9 million boxes every year, is the essential cargo segment at the Elbe.

Learn now how the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) reacts to the growing containerships as well as how we prepare the container handling for the future.

Go to the official website ‘50 Jahre Container in Hamburg’. (German)


On the occasion of ‘50 years of container handling in Hamburg’, a road show is going to be held. You can visit the interactive information container during the Port’s Anniversary from May 10th to May 13th, 2018 to gain an insight into the port’s development into being one of the biggest container ports in the world.

Read more about the Port’s Anniversary 2018.

Facts and figures

  • 05/2017: OOCL Hong Kong with 399.87m x 58.8m and 21,413 TEU
  • 04/2017: Munich Maersk with 399m x 58.6m und 20,586 TEU
  • 03/2017: MOL Triumph with 400m x 58.8m und 20,170 TEU
  • 02/2016: MSC Jade with 398.45 m x 59.07m und 19,437 TEU
  • 12/2015: Barzan with 400m x 58.6m und 18,800 TEU
  • 12/2014: MSC Oscar with 395.4m x 59m und 19,224 TEU
  • 11/2014: CSGL Globe with 399.67m x 58.6m und 19,000 TEU

  • 2017: 8,815,469 TEU
  • 2016: 8,906,817 TEU
  • 2015: 8,821,481 TEU
  • 2010: 7,890,600 TEU
  • 2000: 4,248,000 TEU
  • 1990: 1,696,000 TEU
  • 1968:      37,000 TEU

There were around 9,000 seagoing vessel docking in the Port of Hamburg during the past year. Roughly half of them were containerships and in 102 times those were even large container vessels.

During its first trip from the port of Newark, News Jersey to Houston, Texas, the 'Ideal X' was loaded with about 60 containers.

Visit the website '50 Jahre Container in Hamburg' (German) which was created in cooperation with Hamburger Hafen Logistik AG (HHLA) and Hamburg Marketing to learn more about the past, present and future of containers.

The creation of the container

There were already wooden packaging boxes in England in the 18th century. They were used to simplify the transfer between transports by train and transports by horses. Later, during the 19th century, various countries developed different kinds of containers which were used for the rail transport. The Laadkist RTM 903, a railway container, was established 100 years later than that, after which the Railway Clearing House created the very first standard for railway containers in the 1920's in Great Britain. Those were either five or ten feet long. Therefore, the precursors of today's ship container were solely designed for rail transport. But that changed in 1956. 

Malcolm McLean, born on November 14th, 1913 in the state of North Carolina, is known to be the inventor of ship containers. Already at the age of 21, in cooperation with his siblings Jim and Cara he bought a used lorry to establish a haulage company. During his work as a driver, he was disturbed by the long wait while the goods were transferred. This gave him the idea to optimize the process. Instead of transporting individual boxes or sacks, he planned on building one huge box to store the goods. In this way you would only have to 'unpack' at the destination which would lead to saving effort and costs.

Malcolm McLean kept working on his idea. Finally, he decided to design a container which would be fitting for the maritime and railroad traffic as well as for lorries. Although he had to wait 20 years because of missing investors, Mr. McLean finally sold his share of his meanwhile of 1.800 vehicles consisting haulage company. With the proceeds he bought the small shipping company 'Pan-At­lan­tic Steam­ship Com­pa­ny' as well as two used tanker of the navy. Despite strong criticism and skepticism on the part of trade unions and competing companies, Malcolm McLean had the tankers converted into container ships.

On April 26th, 1956 his first container ship 'Ideal X', loaded with about 60 containers, made its way from the Port of Newark to Houston, Texas. Despite general initial skepticism, his company and his containers slowly met the approval of others. With time the haulage contractors recognized the huge potential of the invention. Even McLean's biggest critics had to accept, that his containers were the future. Therefore the first regular services of container ships already came into being in 1957: The success story of Malcolm McLean's invention took its course.


There is an ever increasing number of container ships that are making the port of Hamburg their destination. At the start of 2018, for example, the Chinese "Cosco Shipping Aries" with a length of 400 meters and a loading capacity of 20,000 standard containers gave an impression of future mega-freighters. Dimensions that were even exceeded by the visit of the "CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupéry". 400 meters in length, 59 meters wide with space for around 20,700 containers. The Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) ensures that Hamburg is well prepared for this class of ultra large container vessel. The key factor lies in our smartPORT philosophy, among other things. The focus here is on accelerating digital opportunities in the sense of sustainable economic growth and achieving the best possible benefits for customers and the people of Hamburg, while minimising the environmental impact at the same time. We guarantee a smooth and efficient process in the Port of Hamburg with state-of-the-art digital solutions in order to optimize the logistics chain and thus balance out the growth in the size of container ships. The control systems used by the HPA are world-leading, while the interaction between sensor technology and analysis, forecasting and information systems delivers huge efficiency improvements. This is not only good for business, it also protects the environment.

Today, we have already figured out a few solutions which are going to play a role in the future of container handling. Here’s a selection:

…is a concept which was developed by HPA to coordinate the growing flows of traffic and goods more efficiently in the future. By introducing intelligent solutions, the efficiency of the Port of Hamburg will be improved. smartPORT logistics connects economical and ecological aspects within three sub-areas: flow of traffic, infrastructure and flow of goods. The basis consists of an intermodal PortTraffic Center for shipping, rail road and road traffic. This intelligent network is a precondition for smooth and efficient traffic and flow of goods in the Port of Hamburg. Ideal data collection and a fast exchange of information enable the logistics managers, haulier forwarders and agents to choose the currently most efficient carrier for the necessary transport.

... implies less lorry journeys with empty containers as well as a relief for the environment. HPA developed the so-called Virtual depot to optimize the relocation of empty containers between the packaging companies. By using the cloud-based system, participants can easily check which containers are supposed to be returned to the depot. The packaging companies can request those directly. The result: The pointless empty trip to the depot ceases to apply.

... is an innovative control room software for monitoring Hamburg's port area. The control room software, Port Monitor, allows us to keep all the stakeholders in the port of Hamburg up-to-date. A variety of information is centrally gathered and can also be accessed remotely, such as electronic cards, vessel positions, water level data, berths, current construction sites, planned dives and bridge heights and widths. Important information is therefore always accessible to all those involved on land and on the water.

… is the future of mobile communication. With the help of HPA, the new mobile network is currently being tested on a testing ground in the Port of Hamburg. The focus is on logistical applications in traffic and infrastructure control. The network is going to enable innovative control systems for container handling such as Virtual Reality applications. But it’s not only about improving the bandwidth or speed. The goal is the possibility to run various application with various requests concerning speed, reaction time, safety and capacity at the same time.

What does TEU mean?

TEU stands for Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit and describes the norm of a standard container. It establishes that a container is 6.058 m (20 feet) long, 2.438 m wide and 2.591 m high. The standardization secures exact transshipment between ships and trains or lorries. The term TEU therefore stands for a standard container and is being used to describe the count, the load-carrying capacity and the transshipment of container terminals.

HPA on Instagram