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.
Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible.
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.
"One of the most significant, yet least noticed, economic developments of the last few decades [was] the transformation of international shipping. . . . The idea of containerization was simple: to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk. . . . Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions. . . . [A] classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction."--Virginia Postrel, The New York Times
"Marc Levinson's concern is business history on a grand scale. He tells a moral tale. There are villains ... and there is one larger than life hero: Malcom McLean. . . . Levinson has produced a fascinating exposition of the romance of the steel container. I'll never look at a truck in the same way again."--Howard Davies, The Times (UK)
"Like much of today's international cargo, Marc Levinson's The Box arrives 'just in time.'. . . It is a tribute to the box itself that far-off places matter so much to us now: It has eased trade, sped up delivery, lowered prices and widened the offering of goods everywhere. Not bad for something so simple and self-contained."--Tim W. Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal
"[A] smart, engaging book. . . . Mr. Levinson makes a persuasive case that the container has been woefully underappreciated. . . . [T]he story he tells is that of a classic disruptive technology: the world worked in one fashion before the container came onto the scene, and in a completely different fashion after it took hold."--Joe Nocera, The New York Times
"Mr Levinson. . . . makes a strong case that it was McLean's thinking that led to modern-day containerisation. It altered the economics of shipping and with that the flow of world trade. Without the container, there would be no globalization."--The Economist
Table of Contents:
Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
Chapter 1: The World the Box Made 1
Chapter 2: Gridlock on the Docks 16
Chapter 3: The Trucker 36
Chapter 4: The System 54
Chapter 5: The Battle for New York's Port 76
Chapter 6: Union Disunion 101
Chapter 7: Setting the Standard 127
Chapter 8: Takeoff 150
Chapter 9: Vietnam 171
Chapter 10: Ports in a Storm 189
Chapter 11: Boom and Bust 212
Chapter 12: The Bigness Complex 231
Chapter 13: The Shippers' Revenge 245
Chapter 14: Just in Time 264