The intermodal shipping container is a large steel box that is built in a small number of standard sizes to allow transportation of goods by ship, truck, train, and even airplane. The container as simple of an object that it is has had a profound social and economic impact. The impact was first initially felt by actors in the shipping industry, particularly port workers and shipping companies. With any type of effective new technology the containers impact became much wider affecting not only the shipping industry, but local development and the global economy.
During the early 1950’s the majority of goods transported on water over long distances were primarily shipped by what is called break bulk shipping in which goods were transported loose or packaged in boxes, bags, barrels, or other types of small containers depending on what type of good needed to be shipped. One of the major costs in break bulk shipping is the time and labor that was spent loading and unloading ships at portside. The problem was always to try to download the goods with little to no damage if possible. One analysis in the late 1950s concluded that 60-75% of the cost of transporting cargo by sea was made up of portside costs, while another study of a specific ship voyage found cargo handling made up about 37% of total costs (Levinson, 2006). These costs not only included labor, but the loss of time and damage including theft to cargo waiting to be loaded onto a ship while other goods were being unloaded. A cargo ship typically spent as much time in port being loaded and unloaded as it did sailing.
One of the exceptions was when a ship carried only one single type of good, such as oil. For such cases both ships and port facilities had been specialized to allow more rapid loading and unloading at a very much lower cost. This specialized bulk shipping had become industrialized, in contrast to break bulk shipping of more diverse or finished goods, the loading/unloading of which had changed little in decades (Broeze, 2002).The extremely high costs of ocean shipping inhibited international trade. It was in 1961 that ocean freight costs made of 12% and 10% of the value of the U.S. exports and imports respectively. The costs were so high that at times for some goods that international shipping was virtually impossible. These costs contributed to the remarkable situation of international trade in 1960 making up a smaller proportion of the U.S.economy than in it did in 1930 (Levinson, 2006). Many attempts had been made to try and overcome these challenge (“History & Development”).
Some commercial attempts which were to have a much greater impact were made by shipping companies in the United States, particularly those led by a former trucking company of Malcolm Mclean. The very concept was simple, by using metal shipping containers similar to those used by the U.S. Military but in sizes that were larger yet still able of being transported by truck or train. While the loading of goods onto ships could take place in two locations one closer to the point of manufacture or assembly which could be hundreds or thousands of miles away in which the goods are put into containers, and the second at dockside where the containers will be loaded onto ships. Unloading was very similar, with goods removed from their containers at a point of distribution or even sale, far removed from the docks. McLean’s companies and another firm, the Matson Navigation Company, successfully used this technology along a number of shipping routes in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Levinson, 2006). It was official that the container revolution had begun.
The intermodal shipping container quickly became the most preferred way of shipping most ocean freight in the 1960s for two major reasons. The first was the success of particular companies, such as McLean’s which was renamed Sea-Land Service, which emphasized the intermodal nature of its business. Sea-Land’s growth benefited from...
References: Broeze, F. (2002). The globalisation of the oceans: Containerisation from the 1950s to the present. St.
Brookfield, H.C. (1984). Boxes, ports, and places without ports. In Doyle, B.S. & Hilling, D.
Brown, R.D. (1978). The port of London. Lavenham, UK: Lavenham Press.
Cudahy, B.J. (2006a). Box boats: How container ships changed the world. New York: Fordham UP.
Erie, Stephen P. (2004). Globalizing L.A.: Trade, infrastructure, and regional development. Stanford:
Levinson, M. (2006). The box: How the shipping container made the world smaller and the world
McCalla, R.J. (2004). From ‘anyport’ to ‘superterminal’: Conceptual perspectives on
containerization and port Infrastructures.” In Pinder, D
Please join StudyMode to read the full document