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Malcom Purcell McLean was born in 1913 in Maxton, North Carolina. The son of a farmer learned the value of hard work from a young age. Without money for college, he went to work at a gas station. By age 21, McLean had saved enough money to buy a used truck. That same year he founded McLean Trucking Co.


Malcoma McLean
The business focused on transporting empty tobacco barrels, livestock feed and produce. One day in 1937, after completing a shipment from Fayetteville to Hoboken, McLean was forced to wait for many hours in his hot truck while handlers unloaded the goods.

At that moment he thought - there must be a more efficient way to unload the car!


The method of stevedores unloading individual boxes, placing them in slings and lifting them into the ship's hold was labor-intensive, expensive and inefficient. Over the next decade, McLean continued to build a trucking empire, but the idea of changing the way he loaded constantly nagged at him.

Meanwhile, by 1955, McLean had turned the companyMcLean Trucking Co. To one of the largest transportation companies in the country, with more than 1,700 trucks and locations.


The future McLean envisioned went far beyond trucking, so he decided to build a new reality. McLean dreamed of a standard cargo trailer that could be easily loaded and stowed on ships or trains. In his opinion, container cargo was supposed to be the future of shipping and logistics. Efficient logistics would mean improved trade and a prosperous economy.


In 1955, to dramatically expand the business, McLean decided to acquire the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company, a cargo and passenger company with docking rights in key port cities.

Railroad executives tried to block the deal on antitrust grounds, and McLean was forced to make the big decision to bet on himself and his big idea.

McLean sold his stake in McLean Trucking for $6 million (~$58 million today) and used the money to purchase Pan-Atlantic.

Renaming the new company Sea-Land Industries, in 1956, he purchased two World War II tankers and converted them to carry his new standardized containers. The Ideal X sailed on its maiden voyage in April 1956, carrying 58 McLean containers from New Jersey to Houston.


With initial success, McLean began a marketing tour to convince key players to rethink their operations and move into container shipping. With lower shipping costs, safer storage and cheaper insurance, he began to win customers. Thanks to lower labor costs, port operators were also pleased with the innovation.

McLean's idea of "containerization" took the shipping and logistics world by storm.
By the end of the 1960s, Sea-Land Industries had more than 27,000 containers, 36 ships, and operated in 30 major ports. McLean built the world's largest trucking business.


In 1969, R. J. Reynolds acquired Sea-Land Industries for $530 million (~$3.8 billion today). McLean personally made $160 million (~$1.1 billion today) from the sale. His transformation from truck driver to logistics tycoon was officially complete.