The Shipping Container
A Cyber Monday paean to the unsung hero of consumer capitalism: Craig Martin @ The Atlantic
Busan New Port, South Korea (Reuters).
At the world’s ports, rows of stacks of shipping containers in an array of colors create a rich metallic vibrancy. On construction sites they are used as storage boxes. They can be seen lying prone and rusting in abandoned plots. They perch on the back of trucks speeding down the motorway. On flatbed cars they trundle through railway stations, box upon box upon box.
McLean (U.S. truck operator Malcom McLean’ the container systems inventor) understood that a transition to container shipping would require the complete redesign of the entire freight transport infrastructure: rail cars, ships, trucks, cranes, dockyards, everything. As a starting point, he commissioned the container engineer Keith Tantlinger to design a new aluminum container, and to reconfigure a decommissioned tanker vessel, the Ideal-X, to accommodate the new containers. Tantinger also developed a further piece of equipment, the container spreader bar, which enabled the container to be lifted without the need for stevedores to attach roping. As the economist and historian Marc Levinson has noted, the design of the spreader bar meant that “once the box had been lifted and moved, another flip of the switch would disengage the hooks, without a worker on the ground touching the container.” Container freight was all about increasing the speed of movement and reducing the cost of labor. Although the Ideal-X sailed for the first time as a container vessel in April 1956, it was not until 1970 that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) agreed on the standardized sizes and certain fixings for containers (or ISO Containers as they are formally named).