Supertanker ships transport enormous amounts of oil.

They were invented by Ludvig and Robert Nobel, brothers of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who founded and funded the Nobel Prize.

“Dy-na-mite!” said Ludvig and Robert Nobel’s brother, Alfred, when they shared their invention, an enormous ship to move oil.

OK, we’re 99.99% sure that didn’t happen. But the Nobel brothers certainly had an interest in the exploitation of natural resources.

Supertankers make the modern world possible by moving oil from where it’s plentiful to where it isn’t. The early ones were dangerous, with just one hull filled with explosive and filthy oil.

In one early accident, the oil caught fire and burnt half the crew alive. For example, in 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground and spilled 10.8 million US gallons (about 41 million liters) of oil into a pristine wildlife sanctuary.

Despite the dangers, tankers are necessary. They continually evolved in size and scope. Today, the largest supertanker is 450 meters long and 25 meters wide, an entire kilometer in diameter.

Besides tankers that carry oil, there are newer ships that carry other natural resources. Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) tankers carry natural gas turned into a liquid, but still stem from the same basic idea of enormous specialized ships to move natural resources.

Container Shipping

Before container shipping, trucks were manually unloaded by longshoremen, loaded onto ships, and the process repeated at the destination. This added enormous cost, slowed shipping times and increased the risk of breakage.

Inspired by WWII standardization, McLean designed containers that fit directly on ships. His standardized containers and ships enable faster and less expensive loading and unloading of ships.

Container shipping puts the cargo part of trucks, the “container,” on ships, no unloading and reloading needed.

McLean’s containers move directly between trucks and ships. To spur scale and encourage standardization, he licensed his patents for free.

In 1969, McLean sold his company to RJR Reynolds for $500 million, pocketing $160 million personally. A later company, that envisioned super-shipping ships, went bankrupt. McLean made money, lost much of it in a later venture, and died comfortable but without recognizing the bulk of the wealth he created.

In total, he founded three companies that went on to be listed on the NYSE. At one point, he was one of the 400 wealthiest men in the US. However, due to bad investments, he went bankrupt.

Container shipping remains the dominant form of shipping. The OOCL Hong Kong is 400 meters long (5.5 football fields), 60 meters wide, and 32.5 meters deep.

Vessel Photo at Venue F (002)2
OOCL Hong Kong