Hensel, Globalization, HouChron, April 2006.
“GLOBALIZATION / A sea change in shipping / When containers came to Houston, it
marked an industry milestone.”
By BILL HENSEL JR.
AN experiment on a ship that steamed from the East Coast bound for Houston 50 years ago
changed the world.
The Ideal X left the Port of Newark April 26, 1956, carrying cargo in 58 shipping containers. It
docked at the Port of Houston on May 2.
Upon arrival and with little fanfare, the era of what is known in the shipping industry simply as
"the box" was born.
Eventually, the advent of the box meant items that previously had to be loaded and unloaded
individually - an expensive and time-consuming process - could be moved more efficiently
around the world and thus, much more cheaply.
"The shipping container may be a close second to the Internet in the way it has changed the
international economy, and in that way, our lives," said William Baumol, director of the Berkley
Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at New York University.
The reason is simple: money. Using containers drastically cut shipping costs because more
products could be moved faster, using less labor. That, in turn, has accelerated globalization.
"Before the container, transporting goods was expensive," wrote Marc Levinson, author of a
recently released book titled "The Box". "So expensive that it did not pay to ship many things
halfway across the country, much less halfway across the world."
Much of what comes in these containers to Houston is consumer-driven, goods destined for the
shelves of retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot.
"Containerization was an enabler of globalization," said Lisa Schimmelpfenning, Wal-Mart's
vice president for imports administration and logistics. "It was an industry-changing innovation,
and it has been a boon for all retailers and their customers because it has made goods from
around the world available to virtually every marketplace."
The amount of containerized cargo moving through Houston has climbed steadily in recent
years. The variety of goods shipped keeps growing, including foods from bananas to coffee;