The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Second Edition with a new chapter by the author
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In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.
But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean's success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container's potential.
Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.
Published in hardcover on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. Now with a new chapter, The Box tells the dramatic story of how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur turned containerization from an impractical idea into a phenomenon that transformed economic geography, slashed transportation costs, and made the boom in global trade possible.
plummeting.40 After the middle of the 1970s, the growth of nonconference ship lines and the ability of shippers to negotiate rates made official tariff schedules useless as indicators of what exporters and importers were paying to ship their goods. “The rates actually charged vary widely and often deviate substantially from published tariffs,” the World Bank confirmed. The New York Times was less diplomatic, reporting in 1986 that “the shipping world has been turned upside down by five
factory in China to produce Barbie dolls with Japanese hair, Taiwanese plastics, and American colorants, and ship them off to eager girls all over the world. These possibilities first drew notice in the early 1980s, when the world discovered just-in-time manufacturing. Just-in-time, a concept originated by Toyota Motor Company in Japan, involves raising quality and efficiency by eliminating large inventories. Rather than making most of its own components, as competitors did, Toyota signed
83. Cost analysis from author’s interview with Guy F. Tozzoli, New York, January 13, 2004. 24. Pan-Atlantic gave up the idea of building roll on-roll off ships by late 1956, supposedly to save money on construction costs and to gain greater flexibility. See “Pan Atlantic Changes Plans for Roll-On Ships,” Marine Engineering/Log (December 1956), p. 112. 25. Much of this section is drawn from Tantlinger, “U.S. Containerization”; author’s telephone interview with Keith Tantlinger, December 1, 1992;
Can Increase Efficiency and Reduce Costs in the Ocean Liner Shipping Industry. Washington, DC: GAO, 1982. _. Combined Truck/Rail Transportation Service: Action Needed to Enhance Effectiveness. Washington, DC: GAO, 1977. _. Issues in Regulating Interstate Motor Carriers. Washington, DC: GAO, 1980. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Cargo Container Dimensions. October 31 and November 1, 8, and 16, 1967. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
business lost a total of $8 million. McLean Industries was forced to suspend its dividend.23 In desperation, McLean tried in 1959 to buy Seatrain Lines, the only other coastal ship line in the East and an opponent of Waterman’s efforts to secure operating subsidies on international routes. Seatrain’s management turned him down. Competitors traded rumors that McLean Industries was near bankruptcy. Waterman, unprofitable without subsidies, was put up for sale, minus the cash and many of the ships