Great piece about the modularization of shipping and how it powered global trade.
More than any other single innovation, the shipping container—there are millions out there, all just like the ones
stacked on the Hong Kong Express but for a coat of paint and a serial number—epitomizes the enormity, sophistication,
and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, they’re fundamental to how practically
everything in our consumer-driven lives works.
Think of the shipping container as the Internet of things. Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles
of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are
designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant.
I’ve been making my way through Marc Levinson’s “The Box”, a history of the shipping container. The business story behind its development and adoption is fascinating. It’s one of those invisible networks of activity that drives every country’s economy, without people appreciating exactly why they can buy such dirt-cheap goods at Walmart.