June 12, 2006 Last month was the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of one of the most important inventions of our time - the shipping container. That first step, where a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston in April, 1956, heralded a better way of transporting goods that has supercharged global trade. A new book tells the story of the container's creation and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. 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.
The book is written by Marc Levinson, a former finance and economics editor of the Economist, is entitled “The Box”, and is published by Princeton University Press. 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.