Malcom McLean didn’t like to waste time, but in 1937, he had to spend most of a day waiting for his truckload of cotton to be loaded onto a ship in Hoboken, N.J.
As he sat and watched the inefficient process, McLean had an idea that would revolutionize the shipping industry: big cargo containers that could slip easily between trucks and ships.
Lots of people have great ideas. Not many execute them.
McLean saw what needed to be done, but it would take him 20 years to make it happen.
Meanwhile, he built his trucking company into the largest in the South by keeping an eye on cost. He was one of the first truckers to use diesel engines because they cost less to run.
When he was blocked from owning both a trucking and a shipping company, he sold the trucking operation in 1955 and bought a steamship company. Then he went outside the business to hire people who would bring in fresh thinking.
First he tried to load truck trailers directly onto ships. When that didn’t work, he designed a new trailer-size container that could be stacked on a ship and loaded onto a flatbed trailer. He refitted his first ship to handle the containers, and the rest is history.
Containerization revived U.S. shipping. When McLean sold his company in 1969, it was the largest cargo carrier in the world. Today, more than 90% of cargo is containerized.
— Adapted from “The Father of Containerization,” Brian Mitchell, Investor’s Business Daily.
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