Happy 50th Birthday, Big Metal Boxes!!!

Fifty years ago today, the age of containerization began.


Here's how Marc Levinson, author of "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger," described the impact of the event in an excellent column in yesterday's Financial Times:




It may not be printed in red on your calendar, but April 26 is an important date in economic history. Fifty years ago, the Ideal-X, a war-surplus oil tanker with a steel frame welded above its deck, loaded 58 aluminium containers at a dock in Newark, New Jersey. Five days later, the ship steamed into Houston, Texas, where trucks took on the metal boxes and carried them to their destinations.


This was the beginning of the container revolution. By dramatically lowering freight costs, the container transformed economic geography. Some of the world's great ports - London and Liverpool, New York and San Francisco - saw their bustling waterfronts decay as the maritime industry decamped to new locations with room to handle containers and transport links to move them in and out. Manufacturers, no longer tied to the waterfront to reduce shipping costs, moved away from city centres, decimating traditional industrial districts. Eventually, production moved much farther afield, to places such as South Korea and China, which took advantage of cheap, reliable transportation to make goods that could not have been exported profitably before containerisation.


Photo: 20-foot (1 TEU) containers stacked in Alameda, California


NOTE: I've created a new group for posting images of containers, container terminals, container ships, and container-based architecture. It's called Big Metal Box. Please join in!

  • Krystian "Krane" Schneidewind 9y

    Thanks for bringing that to my Attention!
  • Krystian "Krane" Schneidewind 9y

    Would be great if you kould post a Link to your nice Group in the Ferropool + some Infos to this Invention. Thanks and Greetings.
  • Gisela Giardino 9y

    My humble contribution!

    big metal boxes' happy 50th bday
  • Automatt 9y

    This would be such a great photo for Container Living, if there were such a magazine.

    Stevedor Illustrated?
    Metal Box Month?
  • Todd Lappin 9y

    Box Life!
  • Gisela Giardino 9y


    uhm... no, that could be confusing...
  • Marshall Astor 9y

    I've just curated a show with 6 artists installing sites specific work in 20 footers. They're awesome inside and out.
  • H H 9y

  • Luca Picciau 9y

    Superb reflections!!
  • shanjaq 9y

    Hooray for Big Metal Boxes!

  • Josh Dunford 9y

    Apparently there's some discussion about the roots of the container. The Port of Vancouver is pining for some credit, and the Scots are claiming that their original cylindrical cans should take the invention prize.
  • Jason Meredith 9y

    Great shot and article.

    Check out www.fabprefab.com/fabfiles/containerbayhome.htm, it has tons of links to prefab houses, great photos, and smart ways to use shipping containers.

  • Valerie Craig 9y

    Interesting image and description. Thanks for posting.
  • Allyson Murphy 8y

    Your headline just made me laugh out loud.
  • Enchanter of Camelot 8y

    You are invited to add this image to www.flickr.com/groups/containers

    please feel free to join
  • Nolan Webb 8y

    cool information - thanks
  • John 8y

  • Automatt 8y

    The Atlantic Magazine cover this month is a tribute to boxes. I think. Anyway, there's a gazillion of em on the cover.
  • suthnautr 7y

    These containers are terrific. Everyone says how way over code they are when it comes to strength, and how they're practically indestructible for use in hurricane zones - but they are able to float and I think they'd be great if properly outfitted to work as emergency shelters in flood zones. Really all they would need is properly sealed doors and some method of tethering them beneath to a proper anchor and they would float with a family safe inside. A ladder inside to a hatch on the roof would allow egress for when helicopter rescue or boats arrived, and a ladder on the outside would allow the occupants to safely get down to the waiting boats. One site I think is good in central Florida is www.container-creations.com". Right now they're doing concession stands and press boxes, but they have plans to build office space and other things.

  • Bobert's Photostream 7y

    Nice narration. Nice shot.
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Taken on April 12, 2006
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