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  • Writer's pictureLetters Wander

The Box

Before the introduction of this metal box, ships would be filled with small boxes that had to be stocked and piled like some kind of nautical game of tetris. It wasn’t simple… boxes would be loaded by size to fit the shape of the ship, with smaller boxes in the bow, where the ship’s hull pinched, and larger boxes in the stern. A ship’s travel plan also had to be taken into account as the loads of the 1st dock point had to be accessible before those of the last point of call. This was a game of skill, maths and measurement.⠀

While the planning stretched the mind…all the heavy lifting had to be done by hand. With different sized boxes, all of varying weights, all stored below deck, no crane could easily load or unload. The job required hands, winches and manpower…alot of manpower. With boats arriving to ports seemingly at random, 100’s of men were required to live within earshot of the bell of the dock. As a result, huge communities built up around docklands in the likes of NY, Amsterdam and London filled with men ready to work at a moment’s notice. These communities led to a wealth of shops, pubs, churches and ‘recreational’ industries thriving around the docks… that was until The Box.⠀

The shipping container, introduced by Malcolm McLean in the 1950s, revolutionised transport and international trade in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The boxes, uniform in size, could be stacked on deck and loaded and unloaded with relative ease. This meant that huge quantities of varied products could be shipped around the world quickly, easily and at low costs. The new docking process required few men but lots of space. Space that the traditional docklands did not have. As a result, trade epicentres shifted from London and New York…to Felixstowe and Jersey.⠀

The scale of freight enabled new players to get involved in textiles, electronics and the automotive industry. This led to a shift in worldwide production from Europe and America to Asia.⠀

This simple metal box made the world smaller and the world economy bigger. It led to the birth of new super power countries but the death of port side communities around the world. For better or worse… this box changed the world.


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