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The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger PDF, ePub eBook 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 conseque 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.

30 review for The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

  1. 4 out of 5

    Better Eggs

    Containerisation is globalisation. Nine ways in which shipping has changed the world. 1. All ships, trains, trailers and cranes for freight are built to the exact same standards. On a ship the tolerance on the rails that lock the containers in place is 1/4". It doesn't matter if it is a refrigerated container, a double-doors one or any of the 16 types of container, all are built to the same external and weight bearing parameters. It doesn't matter if it is in Egypt, Sydney or Cape Town, all the p Containerisation is globalisation. Nine ways in which shipping has changed the world. 1. All ships, trains, trailers and cranes for freight are built to the exact same standards. On a ship the tolerance on the rails that lock the containers in place is 1/4". It doesn't matter if it is a refrigerated container, a double-doors one or any of the 16 types of container, all are built to the same external and weight bearing parameters. It doesn't matter if it is in Egypt, Sydney or Cape Town, all the ports are built the same way. All cargo is tracked in the same way on computers. 2. The heavily-protective and Marxist trade unions that fought so hard for their workers in places such as New York and London and Liverpool in the UK lost out to ports built specifically for containers that had no prior agreements with dockers (longshoremen). Rotterdam in Holland and Tilbury in England got the business. 3. The merchant navy employed many men on cargo ships. 1,000 yard container ships carry a crew of between 6 and 20 from cheap, non-unionised countries such as the Philippines. 4. Smuggling of illegal items and people became much easier. Searching the boxes and barrels of a cargo ship is one thing. Searching through thousands of containers locked at point of loading and not unlocked until they reach their final destination is quite another. 5. What was once a week long sojourn in port as cargo was unloaded, trucked away and new trucks and trains arrived with more cargo for loading is accomplished in 24 hours. As soon as one set of cranes has cleared an area, another crane is placing on new containers. No more people seeing the world working on cargo boats. 6. Because of economies of scale, the reduction in labour costs and the greater efficiency of shipping, freight costs have gone down enormously, so people previously unable to afford certain first-world luxuries now consider them as everyday items. Even in the remotest villages of the poorest countries where there is no national grid, just one generator inevitably there will be mobile phones. 7. What is designed in one country may be made with fabric from a second, manufactured in a third and distributed in a fourth. The owner of the business might live in a fifth. Goods are manufactured where labour is cheapest. One pair of my Old Navy jeans was made in Vietnam, another identical pair in Haiti. 8. It costs 70% extra to ship an empty container back to its home port. But only 10% to dump it. This has resulted in parks of rusting containers inelegant in their uselessness. There are small industries reusing these containers as homes, bars, even swimming pools and small industrial etc units. But nothing like enough to rid the world of these piled-up, ugly big boxes. 9. And for this we have to thank Malcom McLean, a trucker turned genius entrepreneur with a vision for globalisation. In regions like the Caribbean with small islands, containers are broken down into small units for shipping to even smaller islands on cargo boats. Men standing on the goods 'armed' with machetes slash the polythene wrapping or cut down between boxes unloaded from the containers. This is why all four of my leather chairs came slashed making them immediately 'shabby chic' or worse. This is just part of the price one pays to live in paradise and not be fully globalised as yet. __________ Notes on reading the book The thinking behind ships and trains etc had to change before containers could take over the freight world. Ships had to stop thinking they were in the sailing business, for instance, and begin to see themselves as freight-movers. Everything they did had to be with the idea of the best, cheapest, easiest way to handle freight and get it on it's way. Once they did that, the box container was set to change the world.... and it has. Shipping had previously been so expensive that they were best made locally even if the raw materials had to be imported. Now the material might be bought in one country, shipped to another for manufacture and to a third for sale faster and cheaper than when goods were packed in boxes and loaded and unloaded piece by piece by longshoremen. Previous to containers a ship might be in port a week loading and unloading and need a fair size crew on board. Since containers, 20 men can run a ship the length of three football pitches and it can be loaded/unloaded and on it's way within 24 hours. I knew quite a lot about shipping, partly from previous reading, but just generally. But this book is all about detail, and there are many aspects to containerisation that are interesting. Not all good - all the dockers out of work but ever since the Industrial Revolution men have been replaced by machines. Our cleverness is not necessarily the best thing for humanity but is unstoppable.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

    lots of fun. Malacca-Max will likely be my favorite new word for a few weeks. my big question after reading this: what's keeping someone, say me, from building nuclear-powered megabulk carriers of truly tremendous draft, using them as motherships, driving them outside of economic exclusion zones to avoid all the hogwash nonsense nuclear regulation, and linking up with fast oil-burners for final portside delivery? you don't want cranes on your oilburners due to weight imbalance problems, but you' lots of fun. Malacca-Max will likely be my favorite new word for a few weeks. my big question after reading this: what's keeping someone, say me, from building nuclear-powered megabulk carriers of truly tremendous draft, using them as motherships, driving them outside of economic exclusion zones to avoid all the hogwash nonsense nuclear regulation, and linking up with fast oil-burners for final portside delivery? you don't want cranes on your oilburners due to weight imbalance problems, but you're not gonna have a weight imbalance on a ship a mile long. this would be a great little nuclear renaissance! i'd love to see it done. The character of Malcom (sic) McLean was a great pleasure and inspiration. --- i like how you can replace 'shipping container' with 'hoo-ha' in this title and it not only still works, but would probably sell more copies. ahhh, the joys of pop science! or pop engineering(?) as the case may be.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Osamah

    We all take shipping containers for granted. We all know what they are and what purpose they serve, but did you ever stop to ponder the role they play in international commerce or how they came about to be the standard method of shipping in the world? My family has been in the shipping business since 1890 and the shipping container is something I constantly heard my father talk about since my earliest childhood: "cost per container", "offloading containers", "trucks and trailers", and so forth. We all take shipping containers for granted. We all know what they are and what purpose they serve, but did you ever stop to ponder the role they play in international commerce or how they came about to be the standard method of shipping in the world? My family has been in the shipping business since 1890 and the shipping container is something I constantly heard my father talk about since my earliest childhood: "cost per container", "offloading containers", "trucks and trailers", and so forth. And yet even I have never given containers any thought. They just exist, and that's that. I bought this book thinking it would give me insight about the field of family business that I chose not to join and never learned about. Instead I learned that the shipping container is a relatively recent invention and that containerships came about only a few years before my birth. What I thought was a "given" standard method, was actually an innovation that started as an experiment in 1957 which didn't fully develop until the 1960's and didn't come into full steam until the 1970's around the time of my birth. The Box tells a fascinating story about a very unlikely subject. Container shipping is a disruptive technology which impacted thousands (if not millions) of lives and changed commerce. The shipping container is one of the main engines of globalization as we know it. The book can get a little technical at times and some of the data it presents might be too much for the casual reader. I admit I skimmed through some of that. I wish it had pictures and illustrations to accompany the descriptions as well as the people, particularly the main players such as Malcolm McLean. I'm not sure maybe the print edition had them, but I read the Kindle version which didn't have any pictures. I recommend this book to anyone interested in 20th century commerce, logistics, or disruptive technologies or innovations.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul Brannan

    Let’s be honest, the evolution of shipping containers isn’t the first thing that springs to mind for a reading list recommendation. You might struggle to believe that interest could be sustained on the topic at article length much less for an entire book – and you’d be dead wrong. The hum-drum box unleashed a wave of disruption that smashed union power, consigned thousands of workers to the scrapheap, devastated established city ports, uplifted backwater areas and, as an unforeseen consequence, ul Let’s be honest, the evolution of shipping containers isn’t the first thing that springs to mind for a reading list recommendation. You might struggle to believe that interest could be sustained on the topic at article length much less for an entire book – and you’d be dead wrong. The hum-drum box unleashed a wave of disruption that smashed union power, consigned thousands of workers to the scrapheap, devastated established city ports, uplifted backwater areas and, as an unforeseen consequence, ultimately became an engine of globalization. Marc Levinson’s meticulously researched work takes us into a world of cartel stitch-ups, protectionist regulation, corrupt officialdom and high stakes gambles involving billions of dollars in a freight industry arms race that was ruinously expensive for many of its players. Pioneers like trucking boss Malcolm McLean, the epitome of a self-made man, was a driving force in propelling change, but even his boundless energy after a dockside Eureka moment wasn’t enough. Change had to be dogged out in a series of frustrating battles over standards, subsidies and route restrictions. There were bet-the-farm buy-outs, leveraged acquisitions and some nimble creative thinking to circumvent the resistance of entrenched vested interests. It was the Vietnam War that provided one of the key breakthroughs: the military supply chain wasn’t able to keep pace with the rapid commitment of American forces and chaos ensued. With no dedicated port facilities, supply ships had to lay-up offshore, unload cargoes onto lighters, which then had to be manhandled again at piers and docksides. On this scale, sheer muscle simply wasn’t enough and the military accepted the intervention of the private sector. Since then, a sophisticated logistics industry has developed, one that touches our lives every day whether it’s through supermarket supply chains or just-in-time delivery of components to manufacturing plants. The cost savings set in train by the shipping container, on labor, on warehousing, on insurance, on turnaround times, on delivery speeds, were profound. So much so, that industry no longer had to locate its factories where its customers were. China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea with cheap pools of labor and access to US ports were able to take advantage of the new economics of the freight trade and global business was born.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    The Box tries to do many things at once - describing how the advent of the shipping container changed trade flows, transformed cities from New York City to Felixstowe to Long Beach and Oakland, and changed the nature of the livelihood of dockworkers. The Box probably fares best on the latter two fronts. Its account of the decline of NY's ports as the Port Authority of NY shifted its operations towards Elizabeth and Newark, how it led to a hollowing out of manufacturing operations and the subsequ The Box tries to do many things at once - describing how the advent of the shipping container changed trade flows, transformed cities from New York City to Felixstowe to Long Beach and Oakland, and changed the nature of the livelihood of dockworkers. The Box probably fares best on the latter two fronts. Its account of the decline of NY's ports as the Port Authority of NY shifted its operations towards Elizabeth and Newark, how it led to a hollowing out of manufacturing operations and the subsequent transformation of obsolete port infrastructure like Pier 42 and Chelsea Piers into other uses is fascinating for those interested in NYC history. Likewise, the narrative on the bruising battles between longshoremen unions like the Int'l Longshoremen's Association and shipping interests and the complex system that had evolved over the years to provide work [or a semblance of it:] to union members. France's 35 weeks is nothing by comparison.... The Box is weakest when it tries to explain the economics of container shipping. The lack of early data on container shipping is probably one cause - Levinson pulls out random data willy nilly to support his thesis but the fragmented data doesn't always present a compelling case, coming across as ad hoc justifications. I also found these parts of the narrative to be rather dry and lacking the coherent flow of the other sections.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Forget about the internet, the container is what has made us a global village. At times fascinating and other times dryer than the hills of California this book looks at transportation evenly and thoroughly. My biggest complaint about this book is its total lack of diagrams, photos, maps, etc.. There are a few tables of data and that's it. Not even a picture of Malcom McLean, the guy who made the container a reality. The interesting thing about this subject is that no one could accurately predic Forget about the internet, the container is what has made us a global village. At times fascinating and other times dryer than the hills of California this book looks at transportation evenly and thoroughly. My biggest complaint about this book is its total lack of diagrams, photos, maps, etc.. There are a few tables of data and that's it. Not even a picture of Malcom McLean, the guy who made the container a reality. The interesting thing about this subject is that no one could accurately predict what would happen to include McLean who went into bankruptcy with a shipping company. I had hoped for a more Malcolm Gladwell-like book, which it wasn't, but it's still worth a read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Fantastic history of something you wouldn't realize deserves a history. Traces the introduction of standardized containers into the modern shipping industry and examines its impact on the shipping industry itself (obviously), other transportation industries, manufacturing, labor unions, and social dynamics of waterfront cities. Enthusiastic without being too preachy, very insightful and thought-provoking, and the one accusation that could be leveled is that occasionally (just occasionally) it is Fantastic history of something you wouldn't realize deserves a history. Traces the introduction of standardized containers into the modern shipping industry and examines its impact on the shipping industry itself (obviously), other transportation industries, manufacturing, labor unions, and social dynamics of waterfront cities. Enthusiastic without being too preachy, very insightful and thought-provoking, and the one accusation that could be leveled is that occasionally (just occasionally) it is a little dry. I found the social impact of containerization particularly interesting - I live in NYC and it is fascinating to imagine standing on the piers along the Hudson and rolling the clock backwards and seeing it turn into a bustling old-style waterfront. (This book also made me want to head out to Elizabeth to see the docks there, where all the shipping went.) I'd love to read more about what cities that lost out on shipping business did with their waterfronts. Examples of these mentioned in the book include Manhattan and Brooklyn, San Francisco, Boston, and London - all of which are considered very desirable places to live, probably with valuable office and residential buildings occupying old pier space, and it's unclear that they really lost in the long run by no longer being major ports of call. Aside from great stories and details about the shipping industry specifically, this book is a great case study in the impact of a disruptive technology (sorry to use that now-badly-overused word, but that's what it is). Containerization illustrated many lessons about such technologies: - It's never obvious that it's going to work at first - The benefits are not always reaped by the first entrants - True benefits can take many years to emerge, while other parts of the economy reshape themselves to fit the disruption - There is not much use in fighting technological developments OR, less obviously, the repercussions they will have on society - the best we can do is smooth the way a little bit for people who are hurt to adapt - It's not easy to predict who will benefit and who will be hurt by technological changes, and over what time frames these benefits and hurts will accumulate - any prognostication really needs to acknowledge its own limits and uncertainties At 31, I'm too young to have experienced a world where the fruits of containerized shipping weren't at my fingertips, but I imagine that this book might be especially enjoyable for older generations of readers who might be able to trace the rise of containerization with changes in the economy they remember seeing in their lives.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Wilte

    Innovation with much more far-reaching implications than you might think at first: the shipping container. Perhaps even more than on the box itself, this is a book about ports adapting and new ships. But all in all too dull and repetitive; tonnages, millions of dollars investment, acres; the numbers keep on coming. Also sorely lacks visuals, first graph is at page 223. Why not some drawings on how new boxes are designed, with applications for cranes (similar to the cover). Now it is hard with al Innovation with much more far-reaching implications than you might think at first: the shipping container. Perhaps even more than on the box itself, this is a book about ports adapting and new ships. But all in all too dull and repetitive; tonnages, millions of dollars investment, acres; the numbers keep on coming. Also sorely lacks visuals, first graph is at page 223. Why not some drawings on how new boxes are designed, with applications for cranes (similar to the cover). Now it is hard with al the technical terms to see the different solutions. Or a map of shipping routes? And many numbers could hav been put in tables. Malcom McLean was the real trailblazer for container transport via water. P52: "Loading loose cargo on a medium-size cargo ship cost $5.83 per ton in 1956. McLean's experts pegged the cost of loading the Ideal-X [container ship] at 15.8 cents per ton. With numbers like that, the container seemed to have future." And relevant for current debates on robotization and automation: "President Kennedy addressed the issue himself in 1962:"I regard it as as the major domestic challenge, really, of the 60s, to maintain full employment, at a time when automation, of course, is replacing men." (press conference on Feb 14, 1962). War in Vietnam and supply via containers: abide by the three Cs: one container, one customer, one commodity (p183). P269: By one estimate, each day seaborne goods spend under way raises the exporter's costs by 0.8 percent, which means that a typical 13-day voyage from China to the US has the same effect as a 10 percent tariff."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mick

    The history of the humble shipping container may at first seem an odd subject for an entire book, until you consider its ubiquity and importance to the global economy. The triumph of containerization has truly changed the world, creating winners and losers. Marc Levinson's The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger charts the long, stilted development of an international standard for shipping containers and the effects this has had on economies, socie The history of the humble shipping container may at first seem an odd subject for an entire book, until you consider its ubiquity and importance to the global economy. The triumph of containerization has truly changed the world, creating winners and losers. Marc Levinson's The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger charts the long, stilted development of an international standard for shipping containers and the effects this has had on economies, societies, and people. It's difficult to exaggerate the impact of the shipping container. Where once cargo had to be loaded and unloaded by hand, now the only cargo is the long metal boxes which fill the holds of thousands of ships every day. It's been an enormous change, allowing for cheaper and faster shipping, greater diversity of products, and fewer hands at the docks. Levinson doesn't just concentrate on the technical aspects of it, but on the human elements as well. He examines how the adoption of container standards destroyed old longshore communities, and smashed unions, and how new ports sprang from nothing to accommodate the changed flow of seaborne goods. This is an excellent book, which examines a fascinating underpinning of the global goods economy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Phil Gross

    A little dry in parts, but the basic subject matter is fascinating. One of the oldest, largest, and most important parts of the global economy, the shipment of goods, transformed completely in only a couple of decades. Huge ports like New York collapsed suddenly, losing tens of thousands of jobs, as all shipping moved across the river to the drained swamp of Elizabeth, NJ. Economies transformed, as moving goods went from one of the largest costs to nearly free, enabling huge supply chains and the A little dry in parts, but the basic subject matter is fascinating. One of the oldest, largest, and most important parts of the global economy, the shipment of goods, transformed completely in only a couple of decades. Huge ports like New York collapsed suddenly, losing tens of thousands of jobs, as all shipping moved across the river to the drained swamp of Elizabeth, NJ. Economies transformed, as moving goods went from one of the largest costs to nearly free, enabling huge supply chains and the rise of Asian manufacturing. Fun to read while browsing through Google Maps to see the endless container-filled concrete aprons of Singapore, Long Beach, Guangzhou, etc.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A seriously boring book with subject matter that would be more fascinating as a long form blog article. Instead this book reads like a dull academic treatment.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Eduardo

    Topic is really interesting. He could have told the story in half the pages though. Lots of repetition!

  13. 5 out of 5

    William Bentrim

    The Box by Marc Levinson The box is the ubiquitous metal container that is seen at loading docks, on the back of semi-trucks, at harbors and wherever goods are transported. According to Levinson, the container changed the worlds economy. Surprisingly this non-fiction book was more interesting than I expected. The introduction of shipping goods by containers revolutionized international shipping. It changed the geographic aspects of commerce due to the location of ports acceptable to container shi The Box by Marc Levinson The box is the ubiquitous metal container that is seen at loading docks, on the back of semi-trucks, at harbors and wherever goods are transported. According to Levinson, the container changed the worlds economy. Surprisingly this non-fiction book was more interesting than I expected. The introduction of shipping goods by containers revolutionized international shipping. It changed the geographic aspects of commerce due to the location of ports acceptable to container ships. The transshipping of containers via train and truck impacted the placement of factories, towns and jobs. Levinson offers a quite convincing argument for the world changing aspects of the not so simple container.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Madhav

    It's decent book capturing a lot of details about shipping, however, there are very few business lessons that you can take away. As a read it is super dry and dull, lacks metaphors or stories. It feels like a PhD dissertation on Shipping. I was disappointed that the author doesn't write about how modularization (containerization) made a difference to people's lives, perhaps that's not the point of the book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Georgina

    This book had a great pace, a very interesting read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    You might think that the Cliffs Notes summary of The Box would be enough. Yes, the shipping container revolutionized the global economy by almost eliminating considerations of shipping cost and geographic proximity in the manufacturing supply chain. This development allowed factories to locate essentially anywhere - not just near transportation hubs - and so radically reshaped longstanding trade patterns and practices. It’s not too extreme to say that the shipping container played an oversized r You might think that the Cliffs Notes summary of The Box would be enough. Yes, the shipping container revolutionized the global economy by almost eliminating considerations of shipping cost and geographic proximity in the manufacturing supply chain. This development allowed factories to locate essentially anywhere - not just near transportation hubs - and so radically reshaped longstanding trade patterns and practices. It’s not too extreme to say that the shipping container played an oversized role in making manufactured goods widely accessible and affordable at a scale previously unattained, so increasing the standard of living of hundreds of millions of people. But if you stopped there, you would miss the fascinating and by no means inevitable story of just how the entrepreneurs behind the container effected such powerful change. Levinson does not focus exclusively on the shipping container itself, but shows how broader trade systems and relationships were required to change the box to make its impact. His assiduous research convincingly quantifies the impact of each development, with the mountain of data only occasionally obscuring the human narrative. The most optimistic lesson of The Box is that entrepreneurial energy can harness technology to upend even the most ossified, over-regulated, labor-dominated industries for the greater benefit of people. After WWII, the shipping industry was completely regulated, heavily unionized, and centrally controlled, including (especially) in the United States, with little mechanical interoperability. No, one, certainly not regulators or workers, was trying to innovate or otherwise improve the system. The introduction and widespread deployment of the shipping container and related inventions and trade practices upended the industry, greatly increasing trade around the world - without needing to start with central regulatory or labor reform. The case of the shipping container demonstrates that better technology can overcome entrenched regulation and obsolete work restrictions (foreshadowing how Uber and similar services are dismantling the corrupt taxi cartels.) What’s more, container entrepreneurs didn’t just invent a new form of storage and ships to carry it, but also knit together the entire supporting infrastructure - from reworking the contract structures of the trucking industry to creating consortia to agree on standardized designs for new harbor equipment. They actually worked together, legally and productively, to revolutionize the very basis of trade - without any central regulatory push. While I don't think self-regulation works in every case in every industry - banking and related financial services have not earned any credibility on this front - Levinson makes a persuasive case for how shipping entrepreneurs "hacked" (my term) the system for the good of all. Of course some shipping centers refused to accommodate the standardized container (largely because labor unions were unwilling to update agreements to accommodate the new technology), and their ultimate demise caused localized economic pain - "good" jobs and trade were lost. But even more communities embraced the new system, enabling rich trade centers to grow where previously geographically impossible. The overarching testament of the The Box is that economics and trade are not a zero sum game - that reducing cost while increasing quality and reliability can radically increase overall demand for a service. That if something is easier, cheaper, and better, then more people will buy it. The size of the pie increases enough so that all participants in the system, including both the entrepreneurs who take risks to innovate and the workers who enable the trade, actually benefit from the plummeting of costs of transactions. The Box is fundamentally data-driven. A few colorful personalities emerge, but Levinson builds the story primarily on how and where trade flowed, and the before/after effects of specific policies and technologies. While this approach of course buttresses its credibility, The Box is therefore likely to appeal those of a wonkish bent - entrepreneurs, technologists, inventors, policy-makers, and investors who want to understand the nuts of and bolts of one of the most far-reaching and beneficial innovations in history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    You probably never thought much about it, I would bet. Me neither. You know, those big, ugly metal boxes - take them off the ship with specialized cranes, bolt them to a truck or stack them two high on a flat bed train car and get them where they are going. And vice versa. What could be more obvious that needing a standard to build to so all the moving and structural parts function together? Well, it may be common sense in hindsight but to the longshoremen on the piers of New York who used to lo You probably never thought much about it, I would bet. Me neither. You know, those big, ugly metal boxes - take them off the ship with specialized cranes, bolt them to a truck or stack them two high on a flat bed train car and get them where they are going. And vice versa. What could be more obvious that needing a standard to build to so all the moving and structural parts function together? Well, it may be common sense in hindsight but to the longshoremen on the piers of New York who used to load and unload cargo, it certainly was nothing they ever wanted. Certainly something the trucking and train lines and competing shipping firms weren't interested in solving. The book delves into these issues and explores the many ramifications of the evolution of container shipping upon the economic, political and financial impact of the system. Fascinating stuff and I would have rated the book higher but it tends to be dry, repetitive stuff and at times the chapters seemed more like sequential essays than a book. You know it may be a bit too on the scholarly side when your kindle indicates that you are only 60% finished when you finish the last chapter. The remaining 40%? Notes, bibliography, and index. So, looking a for a very thorough examination of the topic? This is your tome.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Colin Wright

    This book, for me, had the same impact as taking art history classes in school. That is to say the information alone was fascinating and worthy of attention, but the overarching storyline also helped tie together disparate pieces of history to form a more cohesive whole. I love when that happens. At times a little clunky and drowsiness-inducing (especially when there are pages and pages of number and data, which made me feel confident in the author's knowledge, but which I could have easily check This book, for me, had the same impact as taking art history classes in school. That is to say the information alone was fascinating and worthy of attention, but the overarching storyline also helped tie together disparate pieces of history to form a more cohesive whole. I love when that happens. At times a little clunky and drowsiness-inducing (especially when there are pages and pages of number and data, which made me feel confident in the author's knowledge, but which I could have easily checked in the appendixes afterward had I been interested), The Box is gripping and focuses on a character who I'd never heard of, but who made a monumental impact on the world (and who sounds like just as striking a character as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or any caricature-worthy tycoon you can think of). This book is very much worth reading, and once you do, you'll find yourself looking around the room, wondering what tales all the other common, invisible trappings of the modern world might hold.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hunterwalk

    would have been better as a long Atlantic/NYer article. Only read if you're really into transportation and logistics.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jack Gardner

    Adventure in Shipping Fascinating story of the vision and perseverance of one entrepreneur revolutionizing a disorganized, incompatible shipping hodgepodge into global dominance. In the process, changing labor regulations, ship designs, relocating port destinations, and lowering product costs around the world. Economic globalization of trade is founded on the marriage of computer tracking capabilities and the standardization of shipping containers and handling facilities from trucks to railroads t Adventure in Shipping Fascinating story of the vision and perseverance of one entrepreneur revolutionizing a disorganized, incompatible shipping hodgepodge into global dominance. In the process, changing labor regulations, ship designs, relocating port destinations, and lowering product costs around the world. Economic globalization of trade is founded on the marriage of computer tracking capabilities and the standardization of shipping containers and handling facilities from trucks to railroads to ships and back again. Thus, allowing for economical manufacturing away from rail heads and ports, with factories moving closer to raw materials and labor sources. Third world countries emerge as trade partners. A development approaching the significance and excitement of the invention of railroads itself.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kuldeep Dhankar

    The modern world is a fantastically complex system. So many levers are involved in shifting the world that it is impossible to make sense of how the modern world came into being. This book is the history on one such lever : this shipping container. It chronically in excellent prose the human cost and the shifting stances of business & state. No one really knew how to deal with the container and it changed the world at very profound levels. An absolute must read

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pierre Lauzon

    This book was on the summer reading list of Bill Gates and I got it from the library. The book was interesting but centered more on labor relations (i.e., longshoremen, stevedores, unions, port authorities) than international trade. The evolution of the shipping container and ships to carry them was also covered in detail. I think the book would have been much better if there had been photographs and illustrations of containers, dockside cranes, loading and unloading, and of the ships. It was har This book was on the summer reading list of Bill Gates and I got it from the library. The book was interesting but centered more on labor relations (i.e., longshoremen, stevedores, unions, port authorities) than international trade. The evolution of the shipping container and ships to carry them was also covered in detail. I think the book would have been much better if there had been photographs and illustrations of containers, dockside cranes, loading and unloading, and of the ships. It was hard for me to visualize.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    This was (surprisingly) fascinating and I learned a lot about the complexities of global trade, unions, and standardization practices.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adriaan Jansen

    A surprisingly diverse book about the history of the container. Marc Levinson points out that diversity in the first chapter when he states that this book stands at the crossroads of 3 areas of research: - The impact of changes in transportation technology - The importance of innovation - The connection between transportation costs and economic geography: The question of who makes what where. It turns out that the diversity that this book offers goes beyond these 3 areas: There are many other di A surprisingly diverse book about the history of the container. Marc Levinson points out that diversity in the first chapter when he states that this book stands at the crossroads of 3 areas of research: - The impact of changes in transportation technology - The importance of innovation - The connection between transportation costs and economic geography: The question of who makes what where. It turns out that the diversity that this book offers goes beyond these 3 areas: There are many other dimensions to this story. Most importantly, the author argues that the container played a vital role in globalization, and that our world would be very different without containerization. First, some history: Until the 1950s, both international and inland and coastal shipping was a cumbersome and time consuming affair, basically due to a mayor bottleneck: Cargo handling at ports. All cargo had to be loaded and unloaded by human labour provided by longshore-men. The process was not only slow, but was also unreliable: The longshore-men had strong unions, and often went on strike. Also, theft was common. Additionally, the transit of goods through ports was the highest expense of the total shipping costs. Levinson gives an example of shipping costs of a truckload of medicine from Chicago to Nancy in 1960: The total cost was just under $ 2400, of which almost 50% was total port costs (pag 9). In the mid 1950s, a trucking magnate called Malcom McLean realised that not just the transit through ports, but the entire shipping process, from producer to consumer, could be made more efficient. He decided to start a new company for the transportation of containers by ship along the US east coast. In 1956, the first container ship, a converted oil tanker with frames on its deck to hold containers, made its first trip, from Newark to Houston, with 58 containers. Behind this humble beginning was a grand vision: ''McClean's fundamental insight, commonplace today but quite radical in the 1950s, was that the shipping industry's business was moving cargo, not sailing ships. That insight led him to a concept of containerization quite different from anything that had come before. McClean understood that reducing the cost of shipping goods required not just a metal box but an entire new way of handling freight. Every part of the system – ports, ships, cranes, storage facilities, trucks, trains, and the operations of shippers themselves – would have to change. In that understanding, he was years ahead of almost everyone else in the transportation industry'' (pag 53). Just 2 years later, in 1958, another early adopter, Matson Navigation Company, started a container service from California to Hawaii. With hindsight, it is easy to say that the container was an obvious improvement. The business case for producers who want to ship their goods around the world is clear: ''In addition to cheaper ocean freight, [a shipper] saved money by eliminating special export packaging, damage and theft, and got substantial discounts on its insurance'' (pag 167) However, in these early days of container shipping, many stakeholders, from industry experts to governmental port developers, didn't see the benefits that are obvious to us now. What followed was a decade of slow adoption, with frequent strikes by longshore-men who did see containerization as a threat to their jobs, with endless negotiations about standards, with city councils investing millions the renovation of ports for manual cargo handling that were obsolete almost as soon as those renovations were completed. At the end of that decade, McClean's success as the supplier of the US Army in Vietnam resulted in the breakthrough of the container. After 1970, nobody invested anymore in the old break-bulk ships with manual labour, and everybody was rushing to participate in container shipping . As said, there are many dimensions to this history of the container. Often, one such dimension takes up an entire chapter. Some examples: Chapter 3 tells the story of Malcom McClean, a story of entrepreneurship, innovation, and creative destruction. McClean's story would not have been out of place in Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma: It is a great example of innovation from outside an industry that completely overhauls that industry. McClean is an amazing entrepreneur, first building a trucking empire from scratch, and than building an empire in container shipping, again from scratch. In chapter 4, two different approaches to innovation are described: Trial and error versus detailed planning. Instinct versus analysis. McClean versus Matson. McClean, on the east coast of the US, seems often to operate on gut instinct, improvisation and adaptation to new ideas. His first idea was that at the port of departure, trucks would ride on board, leave their trailers with cargo on the ship, and that at the port of destination, local trucks would take the trailers from the ship. He realised that this plan had several inefficiencies: The trailers were longer and wider than the cargo their transported, and thus took up too much space, the trailers could not be stacked on top of each other, and the loading and unloading would be time consuming. Next, he came up with a ship that would just move the containers, and not entire trailers. His first ship, a converted oil tanker named SS Ideal X, received the containers from massive cranes on the dock. The second generation of McClean's ships had cranes on board. Constant adaptation in real life of ideas marks McClean's way of finding out where he wants to go. Matson, on the west coast, had almost completely the opposite approach. They hired a consultant who came up with a detailed recommendation, which Matson proceeded to implement. Chapter 5 describes how different local governments and port authorities reacted to the arrival of the container. The best example: New York City versus Newark, a story of renovation versus innovation. New York was the biggest port in the US. It was completely focused on manual cargo handling, and ill suited for containerization. Even after the container had arrived at the scene, New York continued to spend millions on renovating old docks and piers. Most of these piers were in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where there was no room for big container terminals. Also, land transportation infrastructure was inadequate: Trains didn't come close to the waterfront in New York, and buses had to wrestle themselves through narrow streets. Additionally, there were many inefficient processes, most notably this one: Goods arrived at the New Jersey side of the Hudson river by train or truck, were loaded on small vessels which then crossed the river to Manhattan or Brooklyn, where these small vessels were unloaded. Later, the goods would be loaded on ocean going ships. In Newark on the west side of the New York harbour, there was not only plenty of space for container terminals, but also local authorities were enthusiastic about containerization. It was here that McClean built his first container terminal. Innovation at Newark eventually made obsolete all the recent renovations in New York's harbour. The most amazing thing is that many government officials, union leaders, shipping executives and others didn't see the big picture. The competition between the harbours of New York and Newark seems so useless. A look at the map shows that it is basically one port. Instead of competing against each other, they should have been competing against other ports. The NYT rightly remarked: ''The Port Authority, a bistate body, must view New York harbour as an entity and locate its facilities on the basis of geography and economics, not politics'' (pag 94). In Chapter 6, Levinson describes how the labour unions of longshore-men dealt with the arrival of the container. During early 1960, labour unions on both east and west coast came to an understanding with shipping companies: The unions were willing to accept automation and innovation, but only if the longshore-men were compensated for job loss due those innovations. In this original set-up, the increased profits due to cost reductions caused by automation were to be divided between employers and employees. Writes Levinson: ''The longshore union's tenacious resistance to automation appeared to establish the principle that long-term workers deserved to be treated humanely as business embraced innovations that would eliminate their jobs. That principle was ultimately accepted in very few parts of the American economy and was never codified in law. Years of bargaining by two very different union leaders made the longshore industry a rare exception, in which employers that profited from automation were forced to share the benefits with the individuals whose work was automated away'' (pag 126). Even today, in 2017, as in any time since the start of the Industrial Revolution, a possible side effect of innovation is the loss of jobs. How to tackle this issue continues to be debated. The most frequently prescribed solution is education and retraining. Recently, discussion about a a basic income guarantee have become mainstream (see e.g. Martin Ford's Rise of the Robots). The solutions of the longshore-men's unions, sharing between employers and employees of the benefits of automation, is another and original suggestion. Chapter 7 deals with standardization. Here the question is: How do you arrive at standards? Do you let the market figure out the standard, or does government impose one? Often it makes sense to let consumers decide what they want. However, with the massive investments required for containerization, there is perhaps something to say for arriving at international standards quickly through government policy. In the early 1960, McClean and Matson were the only 2 shipping companies who were actually using containers. They used containers of different sizes: 35 ft and 24 ft, respectively. The strangest thing: They were the only 2 shipping companies that were not invited to join the negotiations about standardization. Negotiations ended up recommending containers of 20 ft and 40 ft. McClean was not impressed: ''I don't care what size container is adopted as standard. If the marketplace can find one that moves cheaper, that is the way the marketplace will dictate it and we want to be flexible enough to follow the marketplace''. McClean continued to use his 35 fr containers, even though the government's suggestion of 20 ft and 40 ft ended up becoming the standard by the early 1970s. Check out Chapter 12 for info on economies of scale: ''Container shipping thrives by volume'' (pag 269). Levinson mentions the disadvantages of geography, similar to what Jeffrey Sachs observed in The Age of Sustainable Development: ''Landlocked countries, inland places in countries with poor infrastructure, and countries without enough economic activity to generate high demand for container shipping may have a tougher competitive situation now'' (pag 270). Throughout the book, Levinson argues that the container has had, and still has, a massive impact on global trade. According to Levinson, the dramatically reduced costs of shipping that the container has brought about has been a mayor factor of the displacement of economic production to low-wage countries. Before 1960, international shipping was slow and expensive. Most companies operated only locally, and often vertical integration was the norm in manufacturing. The container changed all that: ''As freight costs plummeted starting in the late 1970s and as the rapid exchange of cargo from one transportation carrier to another became routine, manufacturers discovered that they no longer needed to do everything themselves. They could contract with other companies for raw materials and components, locking in supplies, and then sign transportation contracts to assure that their inputs would arrive when needed. Integrated production yielded to disintegrated production. Each supplier, specializing in a narrow range of products, could take advantage of the latest technological developments in its industry and gain economies of scale in its particular product lines. Low transport costs helped make it economically sensible for a factory in China to produce Barbie dolls with Japanese hair, Taiwanese plastics, and American colourants, and to ship them of to eager girls all over the world'' (pag 264-265). I agree with Levinson that the container has been very important for international trade. However, I don't know if I share all his enthusiasm for the container. Levinson seems to give the impression that for him the container is a cause of globalization. I think that is perhaps too much honour for the box. First, many bulk goods are not transported in containers, such as the commodities oil, gas, grains. Second, I see the container as a tool, a facilitator. What if the container had not been invented? Likely we would have come up with an alternative technology. What would our present world look like without the container? Probably supply chains would be a lot shorter, less jobs would have been displaced to low-wage countries. But would our world look very differently? I would argue that without the container, we still would have internet, flat screen TVs, iPhones, hybrid cars, and all the rest of the stuff we own. Third, I think the real causes of globalization are geopolitical and technological: I see the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the arrival of internet as the true causes of globalization. For sure the container is a helpful tool. To consider it a cause sounds far fetched to me. On top of all this, for me this is also a book about creative destruction. Or in other words: ''Any change in technology leads almost inevitably to an improvement of the welfare of some and to a deterioration in that of others'' (Joel Mokyr, pag 270). The story of the container has many different dimensions. Mark Levinson has told that story well.

  25. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    Marc Levinson's "The Box" is a fine introduction to the coming of containerization--- a basic enough development (a metal box, something with no moving parts and no new technology) that up-ended the maritime industry and whose introduction shifted global trade flows, made and broke port towns, and changed the way the global economy viewed ocean transport. Levinson explores the way the standardized shipping container came to dominate ocean transport and gives the reader whose memories of Econ 101 Marc Levinson's "The Box" is a fine introduction to the coming of containerization--- a basic enough development (a metal box, something with no moving parts and no new technology) that up-ended the maritime industry and whose introduction shifted global trade flows, made and broke port towns, and changed the way the global economy viewed ocean transport. Levinson explores the way the standardized shipping container came to dominate ocean transport and gives the reader whose memories of Econ 101 are fading a good working explanation of the economics of transport. "The Box" focuses largely on the introduction of containerized shipping to US shipping lines and railroads, and Levinson's account of the rise and fall of shipping companies and the struggles inside dockworkers' unions over containerization are fine business history. The book glances at the coming of big container ports in Britain and northern Europe, but its focus is on American lines--- and Levinson does give too little space to Asia in his story. He devotes, I think, too little space to how the coming of a maritime system dominated by huge container ships and their railway feeders affected the whole idea of just-in-time inventory management and what that implies for the way labour is treated and utilized, and he does not look at the fate of areas (e.g., Africa) where the lack of large-scale port facilities and container compatible railways increasingly shuts countries off from low shipping costs, where even rock-bottom labor costs can't compensate for inability to plug into global shipping chains. Almost fifty years ago, Noel Mostert's "Supership" looked at what the coming of huge tankers meant for the oil end of the maritime industry, and Levinson's picture of ocean trade gives a similar picture of the new world of bulk transport--- a handful of huge container ships, often too much big to use the Panama Canal, roaming the seas between container ports in places specifically built to handle them. "The Box" is a fine piece of economic history--- well-researched, meticulously documented, with a good explanation of the networks the shipping container has made possible. It's a good way to approach both how shipping has changed since the end of the 1950s and what low-cost containerized shipping has made possible.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    This book is really much more of a historical account of different business strategies than anything to do with the engineering of the shipping container and surrounding infrastructure. The first chapter and illustration of the book cover led me to believe that this book would be more turned towards technical detail. Instead it's more of an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of 40 years of business dealings starting in the early 60s until the late 70s. There was a painful lack of diagrams. Bizarrely This book is really much more of a historical account of different business strategies than anything to do with the engineering of the shipping container and surrounding infrastructure. The first chapter and illustration of the book cover led me to believe that this book would be more turned towards technical detail. Instead it's more of an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of 40 years of business dealings starting in the early 60s until the late 70s. There was a painful lack of diagrams. Bizarrely, there was only one graphic in the whole book, showing the port of new york, a chapter after it was useful. It could have been so much better if it had some graphs, any graphs, or technical diagrams. Instead there were rushed written descriptions of the engineering of the containers and wider shipping infrastructure, which I found irritating to read without the use of a visual aid. Data on global trends and shipping costs were presented as tables of numbers rather than histograms or graphs. This was maddening coming from an engineering/STEM background.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael Cestas

    I think I began reading this after hearing that Bill Gates recommended it. I liked the idea of learning about the development and growth of an industry that has become a critical component of international trade, while also remaining largely unknown to the broader public. Bill also called it 'fascinating', so I figured I'd enjoy it. Well, in the end, I did enjoy it; however, I didn't find the entire ride to be 'fascinating'. Here is what I didn't like: Long swaths of the book dive deep into minu I think I began reading this after hearing that Bill Gates recommended it. I liked the idea of learning about the development and growth of an industry that has become a critical component of international trade, while also remaining largely unknown to the broader public. Bill also called it 'fascinating', so I figured I'd enjoy it. Well, in the end, I did enjoy it; however, I didn't find the entire ride to be 'fascinating'. Here is what I didn't like: Long swaths of the book dive deep into minutiae about the early years of the industry that I wasn't particularly interested in. Pushing threw these sections was tough. What I did like was that, on the whole, the book achieves its job of explaining the origin, growing pains, ultimate acceptance, and implications of today's container industry. Much of this is done well in the closing chapter, it's just a shame I didn't read that one first.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Trena

    This book traces various aspects of the development of the shipping container and explains how it revolutionized the costs of shipping and facilitated the global economy. It is full of interesting characters and interesting information, from Malcom McLean, who built up a trucking empire and traded it all in for a gamble on container shipping to details about the unbelievably inefficient way in which ships were loaded and unloaded before the advent of the container. The book covers the business, This book traces various aspects of the development of the shipping container and explains how it revolutionized the costs of shipping and facilitated the global economy. It is full of interesting characters and interesting information, from Malcom McLean, who built up a trucking empire and traded it all in for a gamble on container shipping to details about the unbelievably inefficient way in which ships were loaded and unloaded before the advent of the container. The book covers the business, technology, labor and other angles. That said, it was just a little too much for me. I don't care *that* much about the shipping container so I made it about 150 pages in and just sort of lost interest. The tone is somewhat academic--the introduction reads like a thesis proposal--and there are a LOT of details. However, if you have more interest in business than I do I recommend the book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Greg Hendrickson

    I was given this book as a gift, because I worked 25 years in the containerized shipping business. It is written like an economist would write. There are many numbers and facts and figures. While I was intrigued at how events decided what size boxes would be used and how to standardize the world...and change it indelibly, I don't know how good of a read it will be to the casual person. There's no doubt that containerization changed where factories needed to be located and how global business is a I was given this book as a gift, because I worked 25 years in the containerized shipping business. It is written like an economist would write. There are many numbers and facts and figures. While I was intrigued at how events decided what size boxes would be used and how to standardize the world...and change it indelibly, I don't know how good of a read it will be to the casual person. There's no doubt that containerization changed where factories needed to be located and how global business is accomplished. The numbers and facts are crammed into every nook and cranny and can slow down the read and at times and make it a bit dry, but the historical significance can help to pull the reader through the slower sections.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Interesting focus on an underappreciated but interesting subject. Stylistically, some of the language is a bit clunky at times--more of an occasional impression I had versus an overriding flaw. I would say that a reader has to have a fairly high level of interest in this topic in order to read it (even though its a short book) because the 30 second summary is probably sufficient for most everyone else. Given Levinson's decision to organize the chapters by a certain aspect of containerization's r Interesting focus on an underappreciated but interesting subject. Stylistically, some of the language is a bit clunky at times--more of an occasional impression I had versus an overriding flaw. I would say that a reader has to have a fairly high level of interest in this topic in order to read it (even though its a short book) because the 30 second summary is probably sufficient for most everyone else. Given Levinson's decision to organize the chapters by a certain aspect of containerization's rise, the timeline gets a bit jumbled as each chapter jumps back and forth between dates. It would have been additive if there was some sort of summary timeline highlighting key dates and events in a linear format to better help the reader keep track.

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