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T_i_B Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-08-08 06:28 AM
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Thinking inside the box

In an era when business is being transformed by largely intangible inventions like the internet, email and mobile communications, there is perhaps no obvious reason to get excited about the fiftieth anniversary of a large metal box.

Such containers are now an everyday sight, hauled by trucks, trains and ships all over the world. But without them, it is very unlikely that we would all be buying Japanese TVs, Costa Rican bananas, Chinese underwear or New Zealand lamb. In fact, globalisation would probably not exist and the World Trade Organization would have a lot less to talk about.

This quiet and gradual logistics revolution began in the US on 26 April 1956, when a crane lifted 58 aluminium containers on to a converted war-surplus oil tanker at a dock in Newark, New Jersey. Transport boss Malcom McLean had watched teams of dock workers unloading goods from trucks and transferring them to ships and came up with a more efficient way of doing things. He refitted two oil tankers and designed truck containers that could be stacked on or below their decks

Small shipping containers had been around for many years, but they had just been seen as another item of cargo. McLean's innovation was to see a whole transport systems built around containerised cargo, which could be moved seamlessly between trains, trucks and ships.

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