Containers Transform the
In 1960, the San Francisco Transportation Club members gathered to hear
from industry experts. San Francisco was the largest port on the west
coast. Oakland was the port across the Bay, unable to compete
effectively in capturing shipping trade. At the meeting, Ray Watts,
executive director of the Port of San Francisco, told the audience,
"Containerization won't last. We've been handling break bulk cargo for
fifty years, and we are not going to stop now." Ben Nutter, executive
director of the Port of Oakland, jokingly told Mr. Watts, "You take all
the non-containerized cargo, and I'll take all the container cargo. And
that way we won't have any more arguments." Watts responded, "It's a
deal." And it was a deal, for Oakland. Through its focus on
containerized shipping, Oakland soon eclipsed San Francisco, becoming
the second largest port in the nation, after New York.
idea of container shipping originated with Sea-Land Services, Inc. in
New Jersey. In 1956, they were the first to put cargo in specially
designed boxes, called "sea chests," for safe and efficient transport.
In 1959, at Encinal Terminals in Alameda, Matson Lines installed the
first container crane to facilitate the loading and unloading of
containers from a cargo ship. In 1961, Ben Nutter visited the Sea-Land
headquarters in New Jersey to negotiate a deal that would bring Sea-Land
to Oakland. Within the next few years, both Sea-Land and Matson had
built container terminals in Oakland. Oakland's commitment to
containerization had begun.
The impact on the Port of Oakland was enormous. In 1962, there were four
break bulk marine terminals with just 14 berths. That year the Port
handled a total of 787,603 revenue tons of cargo, of which less than 7%
was containerized. Container cargo volume surpassed break-bulk tonnage
in 1968, and by 1972, the Port of Oakland had moved into second place
nationally and first place on the West Coast.
Port of Oakland
"Walk Along the Water"
© Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.