Dimensions Container Design Classifications Conex History

History and Development of the Conex

Courtesy of the U.S. Army Transportation Museum

The “Transporter” - Predecessor to the CONEX

As early as World War II, the Army began experimenting with using containers for shipment of supplies to the theater. Cargo was delayed at ports due to time required to load and offload ships. The Army was losing money because of pilferage and in-transit damage.

In 1948, pilot models were developed and the Transportation Corps adopted the "Transporter, Household Goods, Shipboard" which was commonly referred to as the Transporter.

The Transportation Corps procured 67 "Transporters" for testing, and along with commercial units, they were tested for household good shipments between the US and overseas theaters.

The Transporter was a rigid steel reusable container capable of carrying 9,000 pounds. It was 8'6 long, 6'3 wide, and 6'10 high. It had a double door on one end, was mounted on elevated skids, and had lifting rings on the top four corners.

Transporter Container

The “Transporter” in Korea

In 1951, an additional 100 Transporters were purchased for use within the Far East Command. Used to ship items from Japan to Korea, and then by rail to forward supply points, they were evaluated for transporting sensitive, critical, and valuable items.

Transporter Container in Korean War

This experiment, along with the study of household goods shipments, demonstrated the effectiveness of the container against damage and pilferage. It also proved the efficiency in movement of various troop materiel from the US to overseas commands.

At the Port of Pusan, Korean stevedores were dropping and breaking almost 90% of the off-loaded crates. Theft and pilferage became a daily occurrence. The Army was losing 10% of all subsistence coming through the port.

In late 1952, the Transportation Corps developed the Container Express (CONEX), replacing the "Transporter". Engineering supplies and spare parts were shipped from Columbus General Depot (Georgia) to the Port of San Francisco where they were loaded on ships to Yokohama, Japan, and to Korea.

Conex Containers in Korean War

Not only did the CONEX reduce port pilferage and breakage, it also significantly reduced transportation time. A shipment that normally took about 55 days to deliver was reduced to 27 days.

Containers in Vietnam

Containers became the backbone of logistics support for Vietnam, and nearly every major Army unit moving into the theater carried their spare parts and supplies in containers.

Many containers never made it back from the theater; they were employed as command posts, dispensaries, portable stores, bunkers, and so forth. The containers provided millions of square feet of covered storage that the theater lacked.

Conex Containers at Cam Rahn Bay Vietnam

Above, in transit cargo is staged in Cam Rahn Bay here, operated by the 403rd Transportation Company (Terminal Transfer). Visible straight ahead in the center is passage to the South China Sea.

Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. This photo clearly shows some of the numerous containers used as storage for spare parts and supplies.

Commercializing Containers

Commercial industry began to develop methods of moving containers. During the Vietnam conflict, Sea-Land Container Services, Inc first introduced containerships designed only to carry containers.

Sea-Land Container Vietnam

Inter-modal containers were developed to be shipped via rail, truck, air or ship. Today, they are used commercially as well as by all military services. The use of inter-modal containers may possibly be the most valuable element in global transportation in most industrialized countries.