The Shipping News

By May 12, 2006Taking It for Granted

Blog-Icon-MI.jpgI thought this title for a movie was a little strange, but The Shipping News is actually a very interesting personal Odyssey. The title refers to the occupation that Kevin Spacey takes up in a fishing village in Newfoundland (where no one takes the work of the ships for granted), writing for the local paper.

Back here at home, shipping is invisible to most of us, unless we live near a large port. So most of us will be forgiven if we don’t know about the revolution in shipping that changed our economy. A new book by Marc Levinson, The Box, traces this technology innovation and is worth a read, especially in light of the uproar over the Dubai Ports issue.

In a nutshell, Levinson shows how one man–Malcolm McLean–thought up a more efficient way to deliver product with the trucks in his fleet. His first shot at implementing his idea came with shipping Ballantine Beer from Newark, NJ to Miami. The old-fashioned way was to load a truck, drive it to the shipping site, unload it, store it, hoist it aboard ship. Why not just have a container that could be simply lifted right on ship and eliminate all of this? He found that it was 94 percent cheaper to do it his new way.

Still, he was bucking tradition and the unions, so it wasn’t until the US government needed speed in shipping to supply the Vietnam War that his idea caught on. When it did, ports that didn’t invest and appreciate this innovation whithered and new ones arose in their place. Bye bye ports in Manhattan and Broolyn, hello ports in Newark and Port Elizabeth, both in New Jersey. London shrank while Felixstowe expanded. New ports took advantage of this efficiency and so Dubai and Pusan, Korea mushrooomed.

Check out the trailer for this flick and you’ll see a wonderful scene between Kevin Spacey and his aunt, played by Judi Dench, where, in exasperation, he asks, “What are we doing here?” and she retorts, “Making our future.” Wow, that’s what happened not ony when the container box revolutionized shipping, but what today’s manufacturers are doing with the application of technology.