The Greatest Innovation in the History of Global Commerce: Malcom McLean: Man of the Century

John Cousins
March 4, 2023
3 min read

There are lots of people that have done incredible things that impact our lives in myriad ways, but they are not famous household names.

One such individual is Malcom McLean. Well, he’s not totally obscure. In 2000, the International Maritime Hall of Fame named him “Man of the Century”. And, if your like me, you follow the proceedings of the International Maritime Hall of Fame with keen interest and enthusiasm.

His insight single handedly transformed our global economy by creating the fundamental component of modern supply chains.

He was an inventor and entrepreneur who developed the modern intermodal shipping container. The intermodal container revolutionized transport and international trade in the second half of the twentieth century.

You’ve seen those containers stacked on docks in modern ports, on the decks of cargo ships, on railroad cars, and 18-wheelers.

The brilliance of the container is that it standardizes the entire global transportation workflow. The container is an 8x8x40 box. They are even used to make groovy dwellings.

Companies load their goods right into the containers on eight-foot wide pallets using forklifts. Then the box becomes a freight car that is loaded aboard ships with those huge cranes.

And then offloaded at another port onto a truck bed and driven to its destination’s loading platform, and then onto the shelves of your favorite store.

This is the infrastructure of the global supply chain and what makes it possible.

It’s standardized. It’s universal. It’s brilliant.

So tip your glass to this unsung hero of modern commerce: Malcom McLean. Chances are what’s in your glass, and the glass itself, came from one of his containers.

Malcom McLean Port Newark N.J. 1957

The next major innovation in containerization, shipping, and the global supply chain might be blockchain. There are a number of large programs underway to use blockchain technology to streamline the paperwork process which is currently a costly rate limiter on the movement of goods around the world. Stay tuned…

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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