GTS Blog

The Revolution of Global Shipping Started in America

Posted by Ascent Global Logistics on Mar 30, 2017 5:06:25 PM

global trade

Did you know that the man who invented shipping containers, thus shaping the history of transportation, was a truck driver from North Carolina?

Last week our marketing team was on-site at Inbound 14: a conference devoted to inbound marketing & sales, sponsored by software company HubSpot. We braced ourselves for all things inbound marketing. We had no idea that one of the speakers – Malcolm Gladwell – would base his entire keynote around the father of containerization & modern shipping: Malcolm McLean.

malcolm mclean


McLean was a truck driver who began his career with a high school degree and a $120 investment into a used truck. After starting his own business, which became the second largest trucking company in America, he wanted to enter the global shipping space.

However, he quickly found a huge problem in the supply chain: the time and cost of moving items from the truck to the ship. Often times, the cost of dock service was equal to the cost of actually shipping the material!

This led him to invent the first uniform shipping container. The idea of a shipping container wasn’t entirely new, but McLean’s form of containerization allowed the cost of international shipping to be radically lowered as well as several new ports to open up.


Containerization was bad news for the main ports of London and New York, but good news for consumers worldwide who would now have access to a variety of low-cost goods. This had immeasurable impacts on global trade. Can you imagine a world without containerized shipping?

McLean faced enormous push-back from unions (which he was essentially putting out of business) as well as what Gladwell called the “framers” of modern shipping. Framers were not open to change.

The re-framers, according to Gladwell, are the folks essential to revolution. They aren’t affected by push-back. They continue to advance their ideas because they truly believe, no matter how much opposition they receive, that their ideas will change the world for the better.

Gladwell’s final point in his keynote speech was that revolution means re-imagining every step of the process. It’s the difficult but necessary part of an innovative, entrepreneurial world. What areas of your business need to be re-imagined?

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Topics: Trucking, Freight, Logistics