Malcom Mclean and Fred Smith Essay

The personal computer and the airplane are generally regarded to be the greatest innovations of the 20th century, despite obvious reasons that for instance, they are extraneous commodities which do not affect the every day life of every man - Malcom Mclean and Fred Smith Essay introduction. One innovation which made a global impact in the world, and whose founder’s name, unfortunately, is relatively unknown is container shipping. Malcom McLean, the father of containerization, revolutionalized not only the transport industry, but also everyman’s life by starting a safe, inexpensive transport means which ensures that every imported good’s price is affordable. This paper seeks to compare Malcom McLean and the historical significance of the converted tanker ‘Ideal X’ to Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express.

Considered to be one of the greatest movers of the global trade, Malcom McLean’s life is nothing but a great inspiration. Born in 1914 in North Carolina, Malcom was raised in a humble farming family and after only acquiring high school education; he was able to save $120 from pumping gas at a station near his hometown, the Great Depression notwithstanding. With the money, he purchased a truck aged only 20 years and managed to start a trucking company, where he was one of the drivers. The company grew to have more than 1700 trucks by the mid 1950s. It was from the trucking business that he ventured into maritime transport, where his first converted oil tanker, the Ideal X, made its maiden voyage in April 1956 (PBS, 2008 par3).

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Frederick Wallace Smith, commonly known as Fred Smith, is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of FedEx, the original courier overnight delivery system. Born in1944 in Marks, Mississippi, he has been referred to as the Paper Boy, from his revolutionary idea of a faster, more dependable delivery system which he presented in an economics paper while still an undergraduate student at Yale University. Although he got a C from the paper, he later pursued the idea and later on launched Federal Express at an early age of 29. The company, now known as FedEx, has grown to be the largest overnight delivery firm in the United States (PBS, 2008 par.4)

When Malcom came up with the idea of shipping containers while he was a truck driver, he probably had no idea the impact it would have in the maritime industry, besides being crowned the Father of Containerization. Amid hardships, Malcom is reported to have sold a whopping 75 percent interest in McLean Trucking, a company he had started in the Great Depression with just one truck, where he was the driver, to see it grow into world wide recognition. He made the sale so that he would instead invest in a shipping venture, which made a revolution when on April 1956, 58 aluminum containers were lifted aboard the Ideal X. The converted tanker made its maiden voyage carrying them from Port Newark, New Jersey, to Houston (Mayo, 2005 p. 205)

The minimum costs incurred when moving goods using the container have made it a favorite among sea traders. Moreover, many consumers have been able to access low-cost goods from virtually all corners of the world, in a less-expensive, better service transport of goods.

Both Malcom McLean and Fred Smith are undoubtedly renowned leaders in the transportation industry. Inspired by a prediction he had made while in university, Fred Smith invested personal money in a venture which has made him get crowned as the father of overnight delivery business, in a manner similar to Malcolm’s venture, where he sold his shares to venture into the maritime industry, revolutionizing the shipping container. He is now regarded to as the father of containerization (PBS, 2008 par.2).

It is also similarly important to evaluate the global impact that has been made by their innovations. Malcom McLean’s innovation was a great impact to the global trade in the 20th century. According to the Public Broadcasting Service, virtually every imported consumer commodity is inexpensive because of the container transportation. The Chief Executive magazine awarded Fred Smith the Chief Executive Officer of 2004. This is not surprising, given the respect FedEx commands globally, with a capacity of $16 billion business venture by the turn of the century (PBS, 2008 par.4).

It is however worth noting that Malcom McLean’s innovation was far much greater than Fred Smith’s. Considering the conditions Malcom was facing, it would be appropriate to give him the due respect he deserves. Malcom was able to save money to purchase a truck which catapulted him to global achievement, while struggling with the challenges of only high school education, a humble family and worse still, the Great Depression. Moreover, Malcom McLean did not enjoy benefits such as technological advancement and the computer revolution Fred Smith had.

Malcom McLean and Fred Smith were undeniably exceptional in the 20th century.

It is however pitiful that a great name such as Malcom McLean is comparatively unknown, a man who brought such great success to the transportation industry .So successful was container shipping that by the end of the 20th century, it was transporting more than 90 percent of world trade cargo (Mayo and Nohria,2005 p.13). Malcom was indeed a great man whose work we cherish the world over.








Public Broadcasting Service 2008 Innovators: Who made America? Retrieved March 13, 2009 from <>

Mayo A.J. & Nohria N (2005) in their time: the greatest business leaders of the twentieth            century Harvard Business Press. Retrieved March 13, 2009 from      <       n+tanker+%60Ideal+X%60>

Mayo A.J. & Nohria N (2005).The Truck Driver Who Reinvented Shipping, Working Knowledge

Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria Retrieved March 13, 2009 from


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