The container’s success story started 50 years ago in the Port of Hamburg, on 31 May 1968, to be exact. Since then, the boxes have gone on to revolutionize shipping worldwide. That day marked the first arrival of a container ship in Hamburg, when the United States Lines’ 213-meter-long ‘American Lancer’ tied up at Burchardkai terminal. A new epoch began then, one that has transformed the Port of Hamburg dramatically.


Boxes keep the Port of Hamburg bustling

American Lancer at Burchardkai, Photo: HHLA


Now, in 2018, its time to celebrate this anniversary – and containers certainly deserve one in Hamburg. With a volume of around nine million boxes per year, containers account for the biggest segment of cargo in Hamburg, Germany’s largest seaport and the most important shipping hub for the country’s strong export economy.

Video: 50 years of containers in Hamburg

Thalassa Elpida at Burchardkai, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

The container | a brilliant idea


We see them every day, but generally pay no attention to them. They are on the roads, aboard freight trains, parked at a supermarket. And anybody who ever visited the Port of Hamburg is sure to have seen a whole lot of them. Of course, we are talking about containers, an invention that has been moving the world for 50 years, affecting our lives daily, but that we largely ignore.

A very special box

Inside the box | The whole world in a box


Seen from outside, containers look pretty commonplace, even plain and ordinary, but if you open one up, it is full of special things: bananas from South America, consumer electronics from Asia, wooden furniture from North America, wine from South Africa. Look around your own home and you will see that almost everything you are surrounded with and use every day was shipped in a container at some time. Containers literally carry the world in a box.

Bananas from South America, Photo: HHM / Stefan Breitenbach

Life packed into 20 feet

Container ships | Seagoing giants

There is hardly a more impressive spectacle than when an ultra-large ship calls in the Port of Hamburg. Onlookers on shore grab their cameras or smartphones to try to catch the mega-ship sailing elegantly up the Elbe River. Almost 4500 of these huge vessels reach Hamburg every year. They are the workhorses of world trade and also keep the German export business going.

Mega-ships on course to Hamburg

CMA CGM Margrit, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch


Container Port Hamburg | Gateway to the World

Gateway to the World

The slogan ‘Hamburg – The Gateway to the World’ has been around for at least 80 years. It is still as true as ever. As Germany’s largest seaport and container port, Hamburg links the continents, serving as a hub for world trade and guaranteeing prosperity. It depends on elaborate technology and work processes, with people and machines functioning smoothly together. The port is a world of its own, never sleeping and always fascinating.

Admiralty flag, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

Courage to change

Container terminals | The art of stacking boxes


The container handling equipment in the terminals is part of the usual port panorama, but seen up close it can seem gigantic and uncanny, almost like something out of a science fiction thriller. Container gantries, cranes, and van carriers, those long-legged container transporters, are real eye-catchers in the Port of Hamburg’s terminals. They are heavy-duty workhorses, operating at high capacity around the clock.

Container Terminal Altenwerder, Photo: HHM / Michael Lindner

Hightech made in Hamburg

Container transport | From the port to the hinterland


The Port of Hamburg is at the hub of worldwide trade. Goods from all over Europe are brought here to be shipped to the world. Travelling in the other direction, millions of tons of cargo arrive in Hamburg on their way to their destinations in Germany and throughout Europe. Distribution logistics is at least as complex as cargo handling in the port itself.

Container rail traffic, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

How does a teddy bear get to America?

Transportation in the future | Containers – and what next?


Are containers the end of the road in developing new forms of cargo transport, or will the logistics industry come up with new and even more efficient solutions? What will container ships look like in 30 years? How will modern seaports have to function in the future? Shipping lines, port operating companies, innovation centres, and of course all kinds of research institutes around the world are busy working on these questions … and are developing some fascinating solutions.

View from the bridge, Photo: HHM / Achim Multhaupt

Turning a vision into reality

Visionaries | Authors of the Hamburg container story

Helmuth Kern, Photo: HHLA

“If you’re standing still, you’re losing ground” is a common saying in German, and it exactly fits how some people think – the visionaries, the pioneers, who are always trying to move ahead. To do things, not to react. To set trends, to go in new directions, to look to the future, to take risks. Many such outstanding people have shaped the Port of Hamburg with their ideas and decisions, but two stand out particularly: a truck driver from North Carolina and a merchant’s son from Hamburg.


The Hamburg Container Story

Video: 50 years of containers in the Port of Hamburg

In 1968 the first container ship entered the Port of Hamburg. Back then nobody would have guessed that these mundane steel boxes would revolutionize merchant shipping more than any other technology before. Today containers are the basis of global merchant shipping. This episode of smartPORT TV recounts 50 years of history of the colorful box.

Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. (HHM)

Pickhuben 6

20457 Hamburg



In co-operation of

Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. (HHM),

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG and

Hamburg Port Authority AöR