We started where most histories of containerization startwith Malcom McLean, the North Carolina trucking magnate, who speculated that he could load lots of his trailers onto a ship and send them by sea for less than the cost of trucking them overland. McLean is credited with shipping the first load of containers (truck trailers) aboard a cargo ship, from New Jersey to Texas, in 1956. McLeans idea grew into Sea-Land, the giant intermodal transportation company.
Our research also led to a collection of oral history interviews that had been assembled by historians Arthur Donovan, of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and Andrew Gibson, a former maritime administrator and assistant secretary of commerce for maritime affairs. Between 1995 and 1998 Donovan and Gibson interviewed people who had been involved in the early development of container technology and operations. Their project, supported by the Smithsonians Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, resulted in a collection of audio tapes and transcripts, housed in the Museums Archives Center. As we examined the material, it became clear that there was a lesser known but equally compelling story about the early days of containerization on the West Coast.