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March 1, 2006

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects -- The Box

By: Jack @ 10:59 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
By Marc Levinson, Princeton University Press, 350 Pages, $24.95 Hardcover, March 2006, ISBN 0691123241
To necessitate a Jack Covert Selects, a book must provide insight into the business world. This book does just that. It depicts why globalization occurred when it did. Marc Levinson explains why the shipping container, along with the microchip, should be considered one of the great inventions of the second half of the twentieth century.
Prior to the invention of the shipping container, cargo was extremely expensive to ship. Cities were built around key ports which longshoremen literally worked and died to support. Each time cargo was shipped, it had to be repacked. Surrounding the ports, were warehouses and the living quarters of longshoremen.
Then, fifty years ago a man loaded cargo into 20-foot-long containers and shipped them to Texas. No one cared. That man was Malcolm McLean; the man considered to be the father of containerized shipping. You could also say that McLean was the father of shipping as we know it today.
Held within this book's pages, are the captivating stories of the shipping world, including statistics and the story of McLean's invention. For example:
...A 35-ton container of coffeemakers can leave a factory in Malaysia, be loaded aboard a ship, and cover the 9,000 miles to Los Angeles in 16 days. A day later, the container is on a unit train to Chicago, where it is transferred immediately to a truck headed for Cincinnati. The 11,000 mile trip from the factory gate to the Ohio warehouse can take as little and 22 days, at a rate of 500 miles per day, at a cost lower than that of a first class airline ticket--for 35-tons. More than likely, no one touched the contents, or even opened the container, along the way.

Ironically, it took the Vietnam War to prove the box's value to the world. Before that point, the shipping industry mirrored the ebbs and flows of the global economy through the gas shortages of the 1970s. The expensive shipping prices made investors less than keen to invest in the box; thus, limiting its growth.
It's interesting to note that, "Of the twenty ports handling the greatest number of containers in 2003, seven had seen little or no container traffic in 1990, and three of those seven had not even existed before." This book will give you new insight and appreciation of the box; while commonplace, the shipping world would not be the same without it.
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