Cutting-edge can be low tech

The invention of the shipping container is a remarkable story. It involved no new scientific or technological breakthrough, but merely better organization.

The Warrior was a cargo ship contracted by the US military to transport 5,000 ton of cargo from Brooklyn, USA to Bremerhaven, Germany in 1954. The cargo consisted of nearly 200,000 items. Loading and unloading the ship took 10 days, whereas the voyage itself lasted 11 days. Port costs accounted for a whopping 37 percent of the total shipping cost. The arduous sea voyage itself cost only 11 percent in comparison.

Along came Malcom McLean, an entrepreneur, who invented the shipping container. By packaging cargo in containers, McLean dramatically reduced the time a ship had to spend at port. Back in the early 1950’s, most cargo aboard a ship was loaded by hand, costing $5.86 per ton. Using standard containers, McLean reduced this cost to 16 cents per ton – a 36x improvement!

At times, the next biggest invention doesn’t involve making the biggest scientific or creating new technology. It merely requires us to observe a process and eliminate waste with a common-sense solution.


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