The humble shipping container built global trade — and now it’s blocking it

On April 26, 1956, the Ideal-X, a converted tanker left over from the Second World War, sailed from Newark, New Jersey, to Houston, Texas, with 58 aluminium containers on its deck. The Ever Given, now infamous for scrambling world trade since its grounding in the Suez Canal on Tuesday, is carrying roughly 200 times as much cargo as the ship that set off the container revolution. In that 65-year interval, the container has transformed the business of shipping goods — and the world economy.

The story of the modern shipping container begins with a haulier from North Carolina called Malcom McLean.

Starting with a single lorry during the Great Depression, McLean built one of America’s largest road transport companies, hauling tobacco and textiles along the