It’s the holiday season, and locals are excited for the lighted trees, festive candles, cheery decorations, and most of all… presents! But how — as many children ask — can Santa get his toys all across the world in one night? Instead of just “magic,” the answer is actually “Newark.” Yes, it’s true — Newark, NJ is in great part responsible for the international distribution of presents + goods as we know it today. Read on for how the history of today’s present delivery system begins in Newark, NJ.
Is the North Pole in Newark?
In a way, kind of. On April 26th, 1956, a ship departing from Newark shaped the modern world more than any King, President, trade agreement, or corporate merger ever has. Leaving Port Newark, the Ideal-X ushered in the era of modern globalization.
Before the Ideal-X set sail from Newark, goods were removed from ships as “break bulk cargo.” This meant teams of longshoremen unloaded barrels and bags from ships by hand, storing them in port warehouses. The goods would then be loaded once more into trucks to be distributed to their final destinations by road.
Each time a ship arrived at port, the offloading delayed other cargo ships, while the unloading was backbreaking and cumbersome work. The innovations brought by the Ideal-X changed the game.
The Ideal-X as Santa’s Sleigh
The Ideal-X was a converted World War II oil tanker. It was purchased by the trucking entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, and modified to carry shipping containers.
^ Malcom McLean with his shipping containers
This way, goods within a container could easily, quickly, and safely be removed from a ship by a large crane. The intermodal shipping container could be loaded onto trucks, ships, or railroad cars without ever having to open and redistribute the contents within the container.
This process would henceforth be called “containerization.” Malcom calculated that loading a ship the traditional way cost him $5.83 a ton, whereas using containers upon his Ideal-X cost less than $0.16 a ton.
Containerization remarkably reduced the expense of international trade while dramatically increasing the speed and efficiency of consumer goods and commodities.
This marked a decline of more established ports like those in New York, while it gave rise to ports like Newark. Similarly, the Port of San Francisco gave way to the Port of Oakland, the Port of London and Liverpool declined while Britain’s Port of Felixstowe and the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands emerged as major international ports and centers of commerce.
It changed the landscape of where factories could be located. Inland ports, like Cleveland, Buffalo, Erie, Toledo, Sandusky, Detroit, Green Bay, Milwaukee, or Chicago, no longer became capable of receiving such large and deep ships. Ship traffic (and the economies of such cities) declined during that time. Moreover, the jobs of packing, unpacking, and sorting cargo could now be performed far from the initial port of entry. Gigantic warehouses in rural, inland towns developed, where labor and land were much cheaper than in oceanfront cities. Eventually, redevelopment and revitalization projects reinvigorated cities like Hoboken, Newark, and other such “warehouse districts.”
Containerization also made it cheaper to import goods from abroad — from nations such as China, India, or Bangladesh.
As you unpack our gifts this year, thank Newark’s Ideal-X — Santa’s ocean-bound — sleigh which brought us this great present from the past.