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Hardcover The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger Book

ISBN: 0691123241

ISBN13: 9780691123240

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

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Format: Hardcover

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Book Overview

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... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

Well written and interesting

An easy read, well written history of the shipping container and the impact it has on the worldwide shipping industry and today's consumers.

Excellent detailed overview of the impact of the container on the global economy

You rarely see it mentioned in the popular press, but the container played a huge part in allowing today's global economy to come of age. Today it doesn't matter where a manufacturer is located: as long as they can build the product cheaper - and have ready access to a containership port, they can ship their products anywhere for pennies. The shipping container has a surprisingly long history, but "The Box" is the story of the vision of Malcom McLean who saw that the box - the shipping container - was only a part of a solution. The entire solution was a seamless shipping environment: boats, trains and trucks. Levinson recounts the modern history of maritime trade. How freighters - breakbulk boats in the parlance of the trade - were expensive to load using longshoremen and with the boats having to spend days in each port. The cost of getting cargo to the boat was high. Every item had to be loaded and stowed in the hold individually. As a result, according to Levinson, manufacturers stayed close to ports and international trade was held back. McLean's vision was that a container could be packed anywhere, put on a truck or a railroad flatcar and taken to a containership port where it would be loaded within minutes. It took almost two decades - a short time, in reality - for McLean's vision to change the world. Old ports, like New York and London, hobbled by unions and unimaginative old style ship owners were replaced by aggressive combinations of public and private capital that risked huge amounts on container ports and containerships, respectively. The payoff is that in 2006, ships capable of carrying 4,000 containers ply the world's oceans. Manufacturers in Asia are able to leverage the low local labor rates and sell their products in Europe and America because shipping adds practically nothing to the cost - a far cry from the way things used to be. (By way of example, Levinson tells of how products delivered for pennies per ton to South Africa cost over $200 per ton to be trucked just 200 miles from the port.) The container and containership made possible just-in-time manufacturing on a global scale, reducing costs tremendously while vastly increasing productivity. Levinson's style is a bit on the dry side, but always clear. A major deficiency is the lack of illustrations or pictures. It would be helpful to see, for example, the various ships he is describing. Other than those quibbles, it's an excellent book for anyone interested in this under-explored area of commerce and invention. Jerry

Deserves a wider audience than it will get

It's hard now to imagine a world without marine shipping containers, but the first one was loaded onto a ship, the Ideal-X, just 50 years ago. Precisely, on April 26, 1956, in Newark, N.J. It turned the world upside down. It probably had as much to do with the success of Waikiki as the jet airliner, introduced in 1960. The story has a hero, Malcom McLean, and it plays out, for him and for many others, as tragedy. In "The Box," Marc Levinson makes business history read like a novel. Well, almost. Like many simple, everyday things, the shipping container is more complicated than it looks. Just how do you design a steel box that can hold 20 tons but also has to be picked up without being touched by human hands and moved from ship to truck in less than a minute? McLean, a North Carolina boy who founded a trucking empire in the days of heavy regulation in order to save $3, took the plunger's approach. In the Pacific, Matson Navigation Co. was also interested in converting from expensive breakbulk cargo handling, but it took the systems approach. McLean beat Matson by two years, but Matson is still around (as the principal subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.), while McLean's SeaLand survives today only as a subsidiary (a very large one) of a Danish business that didn't exist until 1973. McLean did not imagine he was going to restructure the world economy, but his idea did that, which is why this book deserves a wider audience than business histories usually get. The container killed off New York and London as important shipping ports. New York City now handles only a little more cargo each year than Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, which did not exist in 1990. Most of Britain's international trade now moves through Felixstowe. Since most of the cost of moving a container comes while it's passing through a port, shipping costs are not materially affected no matter how long the at-sea leg is made. Hence, globalization. The cheap labor of China was always there, it just wasn't accessible before McLean. Although "The Box" barely refers to Hawaii, it is an obvious conclusion that a resort like Waikiki, which imports nearly everything except aloha, could not have offered cheap vacations to middle class American families if ocean transportation costs had remained as high as they were in the '50s. Besides different business approaches on the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, the two oceans featured vastly different reactions by unions to the problem of adopting dock labor to containers. In the Atlantic, the International Longshoreman's Association was antagonistic. The approach was suicidal, for its members and for their communities. In the Pacific, commie bogeyman Harry Bridges forced conciliation on his reluctant membership, saving the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and opening the gates to a boom in Southern California. Bridges, long dead, remains a name that American rightwingers use to scare the children into good behavior. If

Boxing in goods unleashes globalization: The world is not flat

In "On the waterfront," perhaps the saddest point of the film is where Fr. Barry eulogizes K. O. Duggan, killed off by the mob. But Marc Levinson has located a larger villain, the real force that killed off so many longshoremen's careers: the standardized shipping container. While a highly trained crane operator working today's docks earns $120,000 a year, their numbers are few and few of them are former longshoremen or sons of longshoremen. And cargo handling costs have dropped over 90%. Yet this is only the start. The shipping container reduced spoilage, theft, insurance costs, delays, and the entire cost of going global. Levinson's well-researched treatment of a seemingly pedestrian subject works effectively to show that the world is not flat. The original dust cover of Friedman's best-selling book shows a tall-masted ship going over the edge of the 'flat' earth, confirming flat earth society members' discarded beliefs but distorting and mischaracterizing globalization. Levinson's rich, detailed, data-filled work shows the stark difference between Levinson's work with The Economist and Friedman's with The New York Times. Levinson uses a thorough, comprehensive economic and technological analysis, while Friedman flies around the world with a consistent "gee whiz" attitude of surprise. Levinson traces multitudes of disparate events and finds common links where Friedman finds common links and illustrates them with cursory events. Levinson is an economist; Friedman is a journalist. Friedman mixes metaphors and hyperbole; Levinson mixes in a wide range of colorful characters and challenges. Levinson is an editor; Friedman needs one. People who want to understand the recent history, impetus and infrastructure of globalization need to read "The box." Fifty years ago, maverick southern trucker Malcolm McLean devised a method for a quantum leap forward in the handling of cargo in transit. At that time, the process of loading and offloading of ships had not changed much in hundreds of years. Loose cargo, irregular, unpredictable and back-breaking work, light-fingered workers, corrupt stevedores, poor management, and mob-controlled unions were the order of the day and most orders changed on a daily basis. The workers probably suffered the most, but the hidden impact on global trade was severe as well. Some small and expensive products -- whiskey, watches -- could not be shipped reliably and safely when subject to massive pilferage. While containers started as a domestic solution, their global use worked miracles in reducing the costs of getting products thousands of miles, and not just on what came to be huge, fast new ocean sailing ships. Railroads and truckers participated in this transformation. Markets opened up. Ports like Felixstowe (England) and Singapore emerged rapidly, displacing older, intransigent ports. Military shipping in containers from America's west coast for the Vietnam War made return trips with stop offs in Japan a cheap, added s

Fascinating story of the effects of Economies of Scale

The Box by Marc Levinson (no relation, despite the fact he too writes books on transportation) is a new book on the history of container shipping. It is a fascinating account of this method of shipping's birth in multiple places, but primarily fostered by Malcom McLean, through its growth and expansion, driving the evolution of both the ships that containers sail on as well as the ports at which they are transferred. The book covers topics ranging from labor union issues with automation, the politics of New York as container shipping moved to New Jersey, through the politics of competing standard setting processes that determined the size of containers, and the Vietnam War as the military turned to standardized containers to untangle the shipping mess found in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. It is an exceedingly well-written book that I would recommend to anyone interested in history of technology, transportation, economics, or 20th century American history. It is well researched, with over 85 pages of notes and references (for 278 pages of text). The book, penned by an economist, (in fact, by a writer for The Economist) clearly points out the tradeoffs between fixed and variable costs of moving to this incredibly capital intensive mode, and of the increasing scale of container ships and ports. The conflicts between port uses and other land uses were not brought out as much as it might have been, though the location of new container ports at new sites far from old city centers is an indicator that price of land, as well as institutional legacy, are important costs that central cities impose on trade. -- dml

Excellent Research and Good Writing

I'am very impressed with Mr. Levinson's thoroughness. Invaluable material for innovators and developers. Out-of-the-box thinking (no pun intended) by Mclean and others demostrate that an idea can defeat any apparently stablished rationale to stop the implementation of better systems and products.
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