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Malcolm McLean turned container shipping from an impractical idea into a huge industry, one that slashed the cost of transporting goods globally and sparked a boom in world trade.

The boom in global trade was caused by a simple steel box. Shipping goods around the world was – for many centuries – expensive, risky and time-consuming. But, as Tim Harford explains, 60 years ago the trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean changed all that by selling the idea of container shipping to the US military. Against huge odds he managed to turn 'containerisation' from a seemingly impractical idea into a massive industry – one that slashed the cost of transporting goods internationally and provoked a boom in global trade.

Producer: Ben Crighton
Editors: Richard Knight and Richard Vadon

(Photo: Container ship travelling along the Suez Canal, Credit: Science Photo Library)

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9 minutes

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Tue 22 Nov 2016 23:50GMT

Sources and related links


The Box - Marc Levinson (Oxford: Princeton University Press) 2008 Chapter 2.  

The Container Principle - Alexander Klose (London: MIT Press) 2015 

Maritime Cargo Transportation Conference (U.S.), . (1954).  

The S. S. Warrior. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council. 

Containerisation: a modern transport system London: G. Van Den Burg  Hutchinson and Co. 1969 

Nuno Limao and Anthony Venables “Infrastructure, Geographical Disadvantage and Transport Costs” World Bank Research Paper 2257 (1999)


  • Sat 19 Nov 2016 19:50GMT
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