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Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger 2ed

by Marc Levinson Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 544 pages
AU$46.99 NZ$49.56
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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.




Preface ix

Acknowledgments to the Second Edition xvii

Chapter 1 The World the Box Made 1

Chapter 2 Gridlock on the Docks 21

Chapter 3 The Trucker 47

Chapter 4 The System 72

Chapter 5 The Battle for New York's Port 102

Chapter 6 Union Disunion 135

Chapter 7 Setting the Standard 170

Chapter 8 Takeoff 202

Chapter 9 Vietnam 230

Chapter 10 Ports in a Storm 254

Chapter 11 Boom and Bust 285

Chapter 12 The Bigness Complex 310

Chapter 13 The Shippers' Revenge 329

Chapter 14 Just in Time 355

Chapter 15 Adding Value 375

Notes 391

Bibliography 465

Index 491




"The Box reveals the subject to be interesting and powerful, shedding light on all kinds of issues, from the role of trade unions to the Vietnam War."--NUMAST Telegraph

Marc Levinson is an economist in Washington, DC. He was formerly a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an economist at a leading investment bank, and finance and economics editor at The Economist.