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Matson shipping container

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Matson shipping container
Matson Navigation Company, Photo by Jeff Broome


This object appears in the following sections:

Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960–1970
Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960–1970 — The Container System

Ship Hawaiian Progress

Cartoon of a robot loading a ship

Matson shipping container
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
This container was used by the Matson Navigation Company on its shipping route between the West Coast and Hawaii beginning about 1970. Exactly when the container was removed from service is not known, but it was stored for years at Matson's terminal in Long Beach. When the Smithsonian expressed interest in collecting an early container, the Matson Company sent this and two others to Modesto, California, where they were refurbished for exhibition at American Metal Fabricators.
Physical Description
Artifact. One side and the back of this aluminum shipping container have been restored for exhibition. The side measures 24' L x 8.5' H x 8" D; the back measures 8.5' L x 8.5' H x 8" D. The aluminum side panel is reinforced with 17 2.5-inch-wide vertical supports riveted to the exterior at 1-foot intervals. The side panel also includes a round yellow reflector mounted at the lower left and a round red reflector at the lower right. Inscriptions: "A1 03 97 / Matson / SERVES THE PACIFIC" painted on the side in black / blue / red. The two back doors have three large hinges each and vertical bar locking mechanisms. Round red reflectors are located in the lower outside corners of each door. Inscriptions: "TRAILMOBILE / A10397 / MAX. GROSS WT. 52500 LBS / TARE WT. 4100 LBS / MAX CARGO WT. 48400 LBS / CAUTION / OPEN WITH CARE." The Matson logo--a Red circle containing seven white stars surrounding a white disc containing a blue "M" is affixed to the upper right door.
Date Made:
about 1970
Dates Used:
about 1970 - 2002
California, Hawaii
Gift of Matson Navigation Company

Containerization transformed the way cargos are loaded and moved among ships, trucks, and trains. As the industry developed in the 1950s and '60s, there was disagreement over the ideal size for containers. Setting industry standards was crucial to developing a system that would work on all three surface modes of transport--water, road, and rail--and be interchangeable among shipping companies. Eventually, 20- and 40-foot-long containers became the industry standard. But the Matson Company determined that 24-foot containers best suited their service between the West Coast and Hawaii and they continued using them. In the first six months of the year 2000, only 1% of the 3.7 million containers on the West Coast were 24-footers. By contrast, nearly 72% were 40-foot-long containers.

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