The Box by Marc Levinson

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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.


About Marc Levinson

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Marc Levinson has a gift for discovering business history stories that cut to the heart of how industries are transformed. He did so brilliantly with The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, which was short-listed for the 2006 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.
Published June 29, 2010 by Princeton University Press. 393 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, Computers & Technology, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Education & Reference, History. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Box


In this week's Culture Gabfest, our critics Stephen Metcalf, June Thomas, and Julia Turner speak with Slate social media editor Jeremy Stahl about his new Slate series on 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Sep 14 2011 | Read Full Review of The Box

The New York Review of Books

“By the 1980s,” Levinson writes, “new ships holding the equivalent of 4,200 20-foot containers could move a ton of cargo at 40 percent less [cost] than could a ship built for 3,000 containers and at one-third the cost of a vessel designed for 1,800.” Container ships able to carry as many as 10,00...

Aug 10 2006 | Read Full Review of The Box

The Atlantic

What you know him from: Honestly, you probably don't know him, but watching the movie we assumed he must have been a cameo by the way the camera lingered on him and the fact that he showed up in the closing number.

Mar 19 2014 | Read Full Review of The Box

The Atlantic

Malaria Capers (1991), that malaria was of particular interest to.

Jan 17 2017 | Read Full Review of The Box

Seeking Alpha

I read an entire book about shipping containers in an attempt to better understand market forces in the shipping industry, and I quoted a few paragraphs of it in the introduction to my report on Pacer International ( PACR).

Jun 11 2009 | Read Full Review of The Box

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