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The Miracle of the Box

"How the shipping container made the world smaller and the world economy bigger" is the subtitle of Mark Levinson's 2006 book called The Box. It is one of the best business books we have seen in many years. Everyone in logistics knows that the marine container made significant changes in the way cargo is handled.

However, this book creates new awareness of the revolution that resulted from changes in water transportation. When your editor was involved in a 1983 logistics project in the People's Republic of China, there were only three container cranes in that country, all located in the port of Shanghai. Without "the box," China could never have become a primary source for manufactured products.

Furthermore, the adoption of intermodal handling made some traditional seaports obsolescent. New York City and London are just two examples. The effect on the occupations of stevedores was equally dramatic. Unions that represent those workers did their best to preserve the status quo, but the book describes how they eventually recognized the need to adjust to the inevitable progress represented by intermodal handling.

Cargo ships that once stayed in port for many days are now turned around in hours. Improved productivity made intercontinental commerce more dependable, and less costly, than ever before.

 

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