Boxed up

How shipping containers changed the world

Good morning, captains of commerce. This is your Stock Market Rundown for March 18th, 2024. Thanks for joining me for another week of financial fun times. Let’s dig in:


Picture the last time you moved… lugging mismatched cardboard boxes into the moving truck, one by one. Now, multiply it by millions. That’s how the shipping industry operated before the advent of shipping containers. 

Everything was transported in barrels, boxes, and sacks. It was a logistical nightmare, gumming up supply chains. Plus, it was way too easy for some crooked dockhand to pilfer your wares.

Like most business innovations, the shipping container was invented by an entrepreneur trying to solve his own problems. In the 1950s, trucking company founder Malcolm McLean was frustrated that it took days to load and unload ships.

McLean invented and patented the first standard shipping container—a tamper-proof steel box that could be moved via crane. His invention cut the cost of loading a ship from six dollars a ton, to sixteen cents. 

The longshoreman’s union wasn’t too keen on McLean’s containers, but shippers loved them. Within fifty years, the vast majority of global shipping was done by containers—they’re what make your Amazon purchases possible.

Today, there are actually too many container ships globally—the CEO of Maersk warned shareholders of sagging freight rates due to overcapacity. Sucks for the shipping industry, but anybody who has to move stuff from point A to point B over the high seas will be delighted with the discount.

What do you think? Chat with me in the comments:

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  • We’re #1! The USA led the world in crude oil production for the sixth straight year. Shoutout to the drillers, riggers, and tool pushers that make it all possible.

  • BMW’s profit dipped on spiking manufacturing and R&D costs. Does BMW stand for “Bavarian Motor Works” or “Budgets Mostly Wrecked”?

  • AliBaba is in trouble with European regulators for selling illegal products, like counterfeit goods. You’re telling me the Rolex I bought for $15 from a factory in Shenzhen wasn’t real? Maybe the Hello Kitty logo on the watchband should have been a clue.

Bye for now, folks. Looking forward to tomorrow morning's meetup. Yours in capitalism, The Axe

 PS: how am I doing? I value your feedback, and I read every email, so hit reply and say hello — I’d love to hear from you.

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