Containerized cargo undoubtedly has been the greatest single advance in marine transportation in the past six decades. In all corners of the world, the ubiquitous container ship is seen, symbolic of the seaborne commerce that carries about 98 percent of all global trade.
Prior to the 1950s, goods primarily were shipped using the traditional “break-bulk” mode. Wire riggings, lines, and assorted booms would be swung out over the dock while large crews of longshoremen moved the goods between ship and shore. Cargo items were loaded on wooden pallets or in slings, with most goods packaged and unpackaged in warehouses next to the dock.
Break-bulk shipping was slow and very labor-intensive. It was not unusual for a vessel to spend several days in port while working cargo. In some cases, labor could represent half the shipping costs. In addition, possibilities for cargo damage and theft were always present.