A Box That Gave Rise to Globalization

NYT | Keith Tantlinger, Builder of Cargo Container, Dies at 92

Nearly six decades ago, Keith W. Tantlinger built a box — or, more accurately, the corners of a box. It was a seemingly small invention, but a vital one: it set in motion a chain of events that changed the way people buy and sell things, transformed the means by which nations do business and ultimately gave rise to the present-day global economy.

NPR | Shipping Container Inventor Transformed World Trade

by Lemuel Morrison, MBA 2012

When I read the obituary of Keith Tantlinger, I immediately thought of a Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) photo showing a giant container ship in upper New York Harbor. What is most striking about the photo?  It’s what is now gone — the Towers.  More than 9/11 and the loss in those buildings, this picture tells a lot of stories.

  • The container ship in the foreground represents containerizationwhich Tantlinger’s invention made possible and had a profound effect on New York as a port;
  • The Towers, as part of the World Trade Center, represent a revitalization effort by the PANYNJ to help replace what the region was losing as a port;
  • The container ship, a post panamax ship that drafts more than 40 feet, was forcing the PANYNJ to deepen the channels of the harbor. And thus the reason for the article; and

    Cover Photo for November Issue

  • The pageantry in the photo evokes nostalgia for a different time.

The on-going story however is what containerization allowed — it became cheap, in a strict sense, to build a product thousands of miles away with cheap labor.  One of the more curious side effects the resulting imbalance of imports to exports means we now have too many containers around. The PANYNJ reports that:

  • 45% of containers exported from Port Elizabeth are empty;
  • 1.7 to 1 is the ratio of imported to exported containers.

There’s a business opportunity with all those unwanted containers.

Photo by Jason Schmidt

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