Did you know the Empire State Building is shorter than a Ship. Yes, you heard me right, the Empire State Building was once the tallest building in the World and it still is impressively tall, standing at about 381m. However, put on its side, the building isn’t longer than the World’s largest Container Ship – MSC Oscar. But how is that possible and why are ships so big now?

The problem all started in the early to mid 1900s, the world was growing rapidly and trade between countries was exploding. Despite this, one of the key pillars of trade – Shipping – remained painfully slow and inefficient. This was due to the massive time needed to unload and load items on the ships which each had to be done one-by-one, this not only left goods vulnerable to damage and theft but often the whole process took longer than the actual voyage itself.

Luckily in 1956, a man named Malcom McLean, proposed a new idea – lets put everything into a box, ship it and unload these onto trucks and trains. This would mean that the goods would never be opened until the reached their destination thus driving down the cost of shipping. For example, it cost $5.83 every ton to ship before but with Containerization, it cost $0.16 a ton. Soon, after the US army used it to sends goods to the Vietnam war, the idea of Containerization exploded and the amount of Container ships went from 45 in 1965 to over 600 by 1974. The reason Containerization was so effect is that all containers had a standard size – TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent unit), although modern ones are twice as long – meaning that a single type of crane and system could be used all over the World to load and unload containers.

Soon people realised that the bigger the boat, the cheaper it is per container to ship, the consequential race for making the largest container ships caused the size of the average Container ship to skyrocket, leading to the MSC Oscar which has the ability to carry 19,000 TEU containers. As ships like this have become more common, Ports had to be accommodated to fill them, becoming larger, having deeper water and having more cranes. This change caused many small ports around the world to go out of business as they simply could not keep up with the growing size of ships, some of these ports have been among some of the most influential in the World like the London Docklands were forced to close in 1982.

Despite the many negatives of so many small ports and communities being destroyed, Containerization has lead to the biggest growth in the World Economy in human history and the reduction in prices for foods from all around the World meaning average people like you and me can afford even the most exotic treats! While its hard to evaluate  the gargantuan effect these Ships have had on our world, one thing that cant be denied is we would be living in a completely different one without them.