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50 Things That Made The Modern Economy – The Shipping Container

The boom in global trade was caused by a simple steel box. Shipping goods around the world was – for many centuries – expensive, risky and time-consuming. But, as Tim Harford explains, 60 years ago the trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean changed all that by selling the idea of container shipping to the US military. Against huge odds he managed to turn ‘containerisation’ from a seemingly impractical idea into a massive industry – one that slashed the cost of transporting goods internationally and provoked a boom in global trade.

A very concise history of the shipping container from a wonderful BBC podcast. This story is, among other things, an incredible case study in successfully navigating fierce opposition to an innovation.

For a much more in depth history, check out The Box by Marc Levinson.

And if you are in the New York City area, be sure to take a trip through the Brooklyn Army Terminal for an incredible look at how logistics were handled before the invention of things like the shipping container and the pallet jack.