When posed with the question, what has molded the international shipping industry of the 21st century? One may expect answers such as Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, freighter ships, and cargo aircrafts. But what about the box? Six sides, vertical and horizontal edges, and eight right angles. The box may seem like one of the most rudimentary and unlikely creditors to the vast success of the nearly $4 trillion worth of international trade that is carried out each year, however just imagine how different the industry would be without it. Keri Phillips, in his article “How container shipping changed the world through globalization,” argues that the standard shipping container has completely reshaped the international shipping industry and Global economy. Invented by Malcom McLean as early as 1956, the standard shipping container used for the transportation of goods has become a staple in the trading industry. In examining the history of the shipping container, Phillips focuses on the impact that “containerization” had on shipping uniformity, on the existing industry and labor force, and on globalization as a whole.
In this article, Phillips points out the fact that the overall effectiveness that this new mode of shipping presented, could very well be attributed to the standardization of the shipping operations. In 1968, The International Standards Organization “imposed on the rest of the world a standard box...identified as being eight-foot high, eight-foot wide and 20-foot long.” This new standard took the world by storm. No longer were items loosely packed into the empty hulls of ships, but instead goods were pre-packed into uniformly designed steel boxes which were then strategically loaded onto ships to optimize useful space. Phillips further explains that “[b]y eliminating wasted space, it allowed ships to carry many times more cargo and cut unloading time by up to three weeks”(Phillips).
The impact of the shipping containers did not stop there however. Integrating these massive new boxes into the operation and production methods that had been employed in the industry up until this time soon proved to be inefficient. The design and structure of ships used for goods transport at the time were not built to accommodate such large cargo efficiently, and while Phillips explains that some tried to remodel existing ships, it simply did not work. New fleets of ships were designed and built to maximize the number of industrial containers that could be transported on a single ship (Phillips). The industry similarly found that their current ports’ utilization of large storage sheds to store goods after unloading was unnecessary seeing as the shipping containers inherently served the same purpose. Many ports were relocated to more suitable locations that offered open spaces for shipping containers to be unloaded and transported with ease, or else redesigned their existing ports by tearing down the unnecessary infrastructure.
The use of shipping containers in international trade has also drastically altered the labor force, as what was once done entirely by manual labor, could now be accomplished faster using heavy equipment like cranes and tractors. This aspect of the industry’s shift towards containerization may be recognized as one of its more damaging effects on society, however it did not bring the industry down. The vast changes in operations brought about equally extreme changes to the workforce required to carry it out. I don’t doubt that at the time of these challenges, completely redesigning the industry seemed intimidating; but by adapting to the changes, the industry saw immeasurable growth and development. Adaptability is a necessity in the ever-growing global market, it is ultimately what leads to new inventions, strides in technology, and growth of markets.
The great success that eventually came from McLean’s invention made the transport of goods easier, faster, and cheaper. This broadened the world’s perspective on the trading industry, and may be seen as a key factor in kick starting the shift towards globalization. The effects of globalization can be seen in nearly every industry of the world today. Most large corporations have offices in countries all around the world, and it is though the connections that are built by international relations that these corporations prosper. Our education system depends on and leads students to the influences of cultures and ideas around the world through research, communication, and learning programs abroad. Healthcare has reached far beyond local clinics, with organizations like “Doctors Without Borders” and “Medic Mobile” delivering medical care to those in need around the globe. We live in a society where the world is at our finger tips. The accessibility of goods, ideas and communication has stretched far beyond what was previously possible. It would be unrealistic to say that the global environment that we live in today is owed entirely to the creation of a 20-foot long steel box, however it has undoubtedly helped us get there.
Phillips’ analysis of shipping containers offered me a new perspective on the shipping industry, by calling to attention the impact that it has on society. As an international business major, I am always interested in looking at influences that affect global markets. The trade and shipping industries go far beyond delivering packages from one port to another. This is an industry that fosters relations between nations on opposite sides of the world, that capitalizes on growth and expansion, and that employs thousands of individuals around the globe. A single step towards uniformity of shipping did so much more than making a vessel easier to pack, it brought people together and influenced advances in technology and modernization.
The creation of what is essentially a specialized box has re-engineered and grown one of the most prominent international industries in the world today. Take a minute to think about all of the good that you use on a daily basis, many of which were likely delivered to ports in the very containers that this article describes. Now, imagine how different the world may have been, had Malcom McLean not come up with this innovative idea of standardizing a market in order to increase efficiency. Who would have ever imagined that a box, something so common and artless in the eyes of many, was once reimagined in a way that changed the entire world? Few would deny that globalization has given the world a new perspective on life and our interactions with others, just a box gave new perspective to a market that is critical to our way of life.
Phillips, Keri. “How container shipping changed the world through globalization.” ABC. 20 Aug. 2014. www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/the-big-metal-box-that-changed-the-world/5684586. Accessed 4 Dec. 2018.