During World War II, the military experimented with a new, faster way to ship cargo: containerization. Previously, cargo had been loaded in bulk?a crate here and sack there, a piece of machinery in the corner?which required the goods to be packed and repacked at every stop along a trip. With the advent of containerization, cargo could be packed into a giant box at one end, shipped on rail, truck and ship, and unpacked upon arrival. The time saved was incredible. Before containerization, it could take weeks to unload a ship. Today, a ship three times as big can be fully unloaded in a couple of days.
While containerization helped the Allies win the war, it didn’t catch on commercially until the ’60s?APL’s fleet wasn’t fully containerized until the mid-’70s. Since then, the emphasis has been on building bigger and bigger ships. In 1988, APL built the first vessel that was too large for the Panama Canal. Today, the biggest ships can hold 6,600 containers and are so big that you could take New York’s World Trade Center apart and reassemble it inside the ship.