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January 24, 2022
4:00pm to 5:30pm

"From ‘Boxes’ to Containers: Containerization, Post-colonial East and SEAsia, and Re-evaluating Technology Transfer (1950-1973)"

When the United States became involved in the Korean War, its primary mechanism for conveying personal goods to the scene was the Transporter, a leftover from World War II, and the CONEX (Container Express) box, a predecessor to the more recent ISO (International Organization for Standardization), or intermodal, shipping container. These forms of conveyance transformed port cities such as Incheon and Busan from their recent history as part of Japanese empire (1910-1945). The subsequent “success story” of the ISO container, often told as a story of European shipping, or alternatively, American trucking, remains heavily embedded within a wartime context, in this case, the period preceding and leading up to American involvement in Vietnam (1965). A Los Angeles architectural and design firm, DMJM (Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall) helped to design plans for Vietnamese ports in the early 1960s, helping to ease the transition from French colonialism.

With the commitment to Vietnam, break-bulk shipping, with goods handled by teams of stevedores, needed to be replaced by containerization, especially at sites such as Cam Ranh Bay, one of the major intake points for goods. As a corollary to this rapid development of logistics, the various Asian subcontractors involved in this process borrowed and used this technology while participating in Vietnam but also while transforming their own domestic ports. This paper tracks one Korean shipping firm, Hanjin, and its use of the technology in Vietnam (Qui Nhon, Cam Rahn), and the movement of the technology to Busan by the early 1970s. Rather than a story of “technology transfer,” containerization in East Asia stands as a representative case of local actors repurposing and altering an existing technology.

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