The Box

by Marc Levinson

Book Reviews

  • Another history of shipping containers (I had a teacher in 9th grade (!) who was obsessed with containers and we spent a whole week on them!) This is a classic. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger to Tweet
  • As you continue to read about the disarray of the global shipping industry, I hope this history lesson leaves you feeling more well-informed about its origins. For more on McLean and containerization, I recommend The Box (the source of this information)! to Tweet
  • @ShiraOvide there was this wonderful set of expository books in that era - "The Box" "Cod" "Salt" etc Some were great (Box as one). Many felt like they could have just been NYer articles.Link to Tweet
  • Interesting look at how the pandemic has upended global trade infrastructure. Makes me want to reread one of the all-time great books on the global economy to Tweet
  • 14/ Special thanks go out to @KelbyBalson, who originally tipped me off to this amazing story. As there is much more to this tale, I highly recommend reading The Box by Marc Levinson, which was a fantastic read. to Tweet
  • @sarahookr Slight side note. If you want a great book about the invention of the shipping container and what impacts it had across many industries, I highly recommend "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger" by Marc Levinson.Link to Tweet
  • One book I recently reviewed, “The Box,” inspired a @BBC project that tracked a shipping container all over the world to Tweet

About Book

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible. But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean's success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container's potential. Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.