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.
A book about the history of the shipping container? At first, one has to wonder why. (An eventuality not lost on the author, who muses "What is it about the container that is so important? Surely not the thing itself...the standard container has all the romance of a tin can.") The catch, though, is that Levinson, an economist, "treats containerization not as shipping news, but as a development that has sweeping consequences for workers and consumers all around the globe." That latter statement drives this book, which is about the economic ramifications of the shipping container-from the closing of traditional (and antiquated) ports to the rise of Asia as the world's preeminent provider of inexpensive consumer goods (distributed, naturally, using mammoth shipping containers). Levinson maintains his focus on the economics of shipping vast quantities of merchandise, organizing the book into snappy, thematic chapters on different facets of shipping ("The Trucker," and "Union Disunion," for instance), an approach that lends itself well to spot-reading. Throughout, the writing is clean-more informal than rigidly academic (union boss Teddy Gleason is "a voluble Irishman born hard by the New York docks")-making the book suitable for casual readers as well as students looking for a different take on the evolution of 20th-century world economics.