Originally posted on the washingtonpost.com in their business section under the title “How Cargo Travels Through the Shipping System”, this excellent illustration tells the hypothetical story of how goods are shipped from a supplier in Italy to the U.S.
Invented by Malcolm McLean, an American who owned one of the largest trucking fleets in the south, the shipping container was a response to the inefficiency of loading and unloading goods by hand. As a result, McLean purchased a small shipping company so he could experiment with a more cost effective way of transferring product from sea to land. The end result – the Shipping Container. McLean’s genius radically changed the cost of shipping goods from overseas, taking the 1956 cost of loading loose cargo from $5.86 per ton to a mere .16 cents per ton. Thanks to good old fashion entrepreneurship and our appetite for consumption, the way we invent, make and buy product was changed forever.
Today much of the what we use is made in some way shape or form in China and shipped via containers around the world. Due to an imbalance in trade in places such as the U.S. (more goods coming in then going out) most of these containers remain in their destination country since shipping an empty container back to its origin is more expensive than purchasing a new one. This excess of empty containers has spawned a movement of architects, designers and environmentalist to re-think their purpose. Everything from housing for the homeless to hyper cool modern homes have been conceived and built.
Coming up next, I’ll be posting some links to these inventive and highly creative projects that not only address the excess of containers, but the broader social and environmental responsibility we all have. The shipping container may have been born out of one man’s vision to better his bottom line, but the after life can be far more interesting. Stay tuned.