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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Malcolm McLean, Shipping Container Pioneer
Created by John Eipper on 07/10/19 3:02 PM

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Malcolm McLean, Shipping Container Pioneer (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 07/10/19 3:02 pm)

For a change of topic, I would like to pay tribute to a great American who revolutionized the shipping industry almost as much as when it changed from sailing to steam and then to motorized transport.

Our man is Malcolm McLean (1913-2001), originally a trucker from Red Springs in North Carolina. He noticed that it took too long and was too expensive to load merchandise on board vessels. In 1956 to load a ship it cost $5.86 per ton and took several days.

Therefore McLean thought that if he arrived alongside a ship with the merchandise already stored in standard containers of 20' or 40', it would yield much bigger profits.

He bought two old T2 tankers which with the "Liberty" ships were the real heroes and winners of WWII. The T2s were transformed to carry the containers, and on 26 April 1956, during the maiden voyage of the Ideal-X from Port Newark to the Port of Houston, it cost only 16 cents per loaded ton! Also, the stay in port dropped from several days to one. The famous Sea-Land Company started at this time.

Freddy Fields, a top official of the International Longshoremen's Association, when asked what he thought of the newly fitted container ship, replied: "I'd like to sink that son of a bitch." Let me second Freddy's opinion. In the good old days a crew could stay a long time in port, visit the towns, and get to know new people--especially nice girls. Those days were gone for good.

In 1963 I sailed on a glorious Liberty ship, from Trieste to Buenos Aires. However, there was no air conditioning in those ships.

JE comments: Malcolm McLean revolutionized shipping, and is arguably one of the founders of globalization. Standardized containers: How did it take so long to come up with such an obvious idea?

Eugenio, can you give us an idea of how hot it can be to cross the Equator in a floating metal box? "Dantesque" comes to mind, but I'm not a virtuoso with words.


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