FreightWaves Classics: SS Great Britain was launched 179 years ago

FreightWaves Classics profiles the historic SS Great Britain.

The restored SS Great Britain. (Photo:

On a rainy summer morning in 1843 excited crowds flowed into the city of Bristol, which is located in southwestern England. They sought to witness the “floating out” of a revolutionary new ship – the SS Great Britain. It was July 19, 1843, exactly four years to the day since the ship’s construction began. 

The ship

The SS Great Britain was the first screw-propelled, ocean-going, wrought iron ship. Most large ships of the era were fitted with more conventional paddle wheels. 

Designed by the renowned civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ship was constructed specifically for the Great Western Steamship Company’s service between Bristol and New York. Brunel originally conceived the ship to be a traditional paddle steamer, but he altered the ship’s design in order to use the new technology of screw propulsion. 

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. 
Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The ship’s engines were also converted during construction to generate 1,000 horsepower, in order to power a massive 16-foot iron propeller. When the ship was launched it was the largest ship in the world, at almost 330 feet long – almost 100 feet longer than the second-longest ship at that time. The SS Great Britain weighed 1,930 tons – much heavier than any ships on the world’s oceans at that time. The ship was initially designed for the Great Western Steamship Company’s trans-Atlantic luxury passenger trade. It could carry 252 first- and second-class passengers and a crew of 130. It was the world’s longest passenger ship between 1845 and 1854.

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By combining key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history. It is not an overstatement that the SS Great Britain set the standard for modern ship design. It also demonstrated the capabilities and inventiveness of the Victorian era. Almost by himself  “Brunel shaped the future of mass passenger travel and international communications.”

Launching the ship

Prior to the launch of the SS Great Britain, the preceding years had been difficult in Bristol. A “busy trading port since ancient times, the city was in serious commercial decline by 1843.” Many residents hoped that the ship’s construction would help reverse the city’s fortunes. 

The Bristol Mirror published a special supplement to commemorate the launch. The newspaper described how the visit of Prince Albert should be regarded as much a celebration of Bristol as a celebration for the ship. The newspaper described the pride of the city’s residents that Prince Albert would take part in the festivities. It also outlined the efforts they went to in the days ahead of his arrival to spruce up the city. According to the reports, the city streets were decked with flags, banners, ribbons and flowers. On July 19, “when the royal cortege passed through the city, all of its shops were shut and business was entirely suspended. Crowds lined the streets, church bells rang, ships were dressed out in a variety of colors and a cannon was fired.” 

Prince Albert. (Image:
Prince Albert. (Image:

The Royal Train was a special Great Western Railway train driven by Brunel on the newly completed railroad. It arrived at the packed rail station and was greeted by thunderous applause.

Prince Albert was the Prince Consort of the United Kingdom and the husband of Queen Victoria. The prince was accompanied by the Marquis of Exeter; Lord Wharncliffe, President of the Council; Lords Liverpool, Lincoln and others in his retinue. In addition, Charles Russell, Chairman of the Railway Company and C. A. Saunders, the railroad’s secretary, were present. 

The Mayor of Bristol and the Town Clerk addressed the Prince, and then the dignitaries had a private breakfast. Prince Albert then took his seat in one of the royal carriages and began his procession through Bristol. The route was lined with thousands of cheering spectators.

Prince Albert boarded the SS Great Britain and inspected the ship during a tour. The ship was described by contemporaries as ‘revolutionary’ in its design. At about 3:30 p.m., as cannon thundered in all directions, a band struck up ‘Rule Britannia.’ 

Prince Albert hurled a bottle of wine at the vessel and scored a decisive hit. At that point the ship was named to rapturous applause. The Illustrated London News reported, “Amid the shouts of thousands… the Prince broke against the bows a bottle of wine and pronounced as the name by which the ship is after to be known, the words ‘Great Britain.’” 

The ship was slowly towed out of her dock, and with the proceedings over, the Prince returned to the Royal Carriages and was driven to the railway terminal for his return to London.

S.S. Great Britain leaving Bristol, circa 1950. (Painting by Harold Vivien Ing/
S.S. Great Britain leaving Bristol, painted circa 1950. (Painting by Harold Vivien Ing/

The ship’s voyages

In 1845 the SS Great Britain became the first iron steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The voyage took just 14 days. 

While her first few voyages demonstrated her technological abilities, they were not a major financial success, because the ship attracted far fewer passengers than its owners had anticipated. The SS Great Britain’s career in the trans-Atlantic market therefore was short-lived. Following a navigational error, the ship was run aground in Dundrum Bay in Northern Ireland in 1846. 

The ship’s owners were forced out of business after they spent all their funds re-floating the ship. Moreover, her engines were badly damaged when the ship ran aground. This led the ship to be sold for salvage in 1850. Gibbs, Bright & Co. purchased the SS Great Britain to carry emigrants to Australia. The new owners replaced the ship’s original engine with a more efficient one, added a second funnel, replaced the ship’s rudder and propeller, and added an extra upper deck so that the ship could carry up to 750 passengers. 

A painting of the SS Great Britain at sea. (Image:
A painting of the SS Great Britain at sea. (Image:

Under Gibbs Bright and Co, the ship prospered. The company took advantage of the increase in emigration caused by the Australian gold rush, and used the ship to transport those seeking a new life in Australia. To save money on the run to Australia, the ship relied more on sail power than her steam engine. 

From 1852 to 1881, the SS Great Britain carried over 16,000 emigrants to Australia on 32 voyages. During that period the ship was known as one of the fastest, most elegant and luxurious emigrant clipper ships – the “Greyhound of the Seas.”

Between 1854 and 1855 the ship was chartered by the British government to carry troops to and from the Crimean War. During the course of the conflict it transported over 44,000 troops.

It then returned to carrying passengers to Australia. It took about 120 days to journey to Australia, which was very competitive for the mid-19th century. Passage on the SS Great Britain virtually guaranteed that a passenger would arrive on time, well ahead of any sail-powered rivals.

The stern of the SS Great Britain. (Photo:
The stern of the SS Great Britain. (Photo:

Conversion to a sailing ship

The SS Great Britain was showing her age in the late 1870s. By 1876 shipbuilding standards had changed; the vessel was no longer insurable for passenger use. Gibbs, Bright & Co. sold the ship; its new owners adapted her after 30 years as a passenger ship into a bulk cargo carrier. They removed the ship’s engines and rigged her as a huge, three-masted windjammer. 

In 1882 she set sail from Penarth, Wales full of coal and bound for San Francisco. Until 1886 she carried different exports (such as coal and wheat) between England and the U.S. West Coast. 

Following storms off Cape Horn (the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile) in 1886 the SS Great Britain was badly damaged. Her captain was forced to seek shelter in the Falkland Islands. Her owners determined that the ship was too damaged to maintain the ability to sail; and repairs would have cost more than the ship was then worth. 

So the SS Great Britain was sold to the Falkland Islands Company and used as a floating storage hulk. The ship served as a warehouse, quarantine ship, and coal storage vessel.

During the First World War, coal from her hold was used to replenish the British battle cruisers Inflexible and Invincible before the decisive battle of the Falkland Islands on December 7, 1914. In that battle, the British fleet sunk Germany’s armored cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst and light cruisers Nurnberg and Leipzig.

By 1933 the ship’s hull was no longer watertight. In 1937, after being towed to Sparrow Cove, a short distance from Port Stanley, she was beached, abandoned and left to rust away. 

The abandoned SS Great Britain. (Image:
The abandoned SS Great Britain. (Image:

Rescuing the SS Great Britain

There were attempts to rescue the ship in the late 1930s and again in the 1960s. These attempts failed, but in 1970 a major salvage effort refloated the ship, and she was towed across the Atlantic to Bristol – a distance of 8,000 miles.

Naval architect Ewan Corlett understood the importance of the SS Great Britain. After months of research and planning he mounted a rescue operation to bring the ship back to the United Kingdom. The salvage operation was made possible by several large donations, and those working on it managed to refloat the SS Great Britain on April 13, 1970, despite ferocious gales that lashed the area. The ship crossed the Atlantic sitting on a huge floating pontoon pulled by tugboats.

Despite spending nearly 100 years in the harsh weather of the South Atlantic region, the SS Great Britain was able to float up the River Avon under her own power. After sailing over one million miles, Brunel’s 155-year-old iron hull had stood the test of time superbly.

Exactly 127 years after she was christened – on July 19, 1970 – the SS Great Britain returned to Bristol’s Great Western Dockyard. 

The SS Great Britain sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge on her way "home." (Photo:
The SS Great Britain sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge on her way “home.” (Photo:

Corrosion was the biggest threat facing the iron ship, so conservators spent three years cleaning, repairing and restoring the ship’s hull, ensuring its preservation and preventing further corrosion or deterioration. 

Following this refitting, Brunel’s SS Great Britain was relaunched in 2005 as one of the world’s most important maritime museums. This very special ship is now part of the National Historic Fleet and also serves as a museum ship in Bristol Harbor.

The ship today in Bristol Harbor. (Photo:
The ship today in Bristol Harbor. (Photo:

SS Great Britain today

Dominating the historic waterfront of Bristol, the ship has been painstakingly restored to recreate life on the world’s first great luxury liner and to celebrate’s Bristol’s history as one of the most important ports in the world. 

Now, the SS Great Britain is one of Bristol’s most popular attractions. The complex where she resides includes the Dockyard Museum (which charts the ship’s history from her conception to the modern day, featuring some helpful historical context to steamships and personal effects from those associated with the ship), the ‘Being Brunel’ exhibition (which explores Bristol’s most famous resident in greater depth), and the ship itself, which has been lovingly restored since returning to Bristol in 1970.

FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: Constantine’s Bridge spanned the Danube 

Budapest on the Danube. (Photo: Classics profiles a bridge that was built nearly 1,700 years ago.

Budapest on the Danube. (Photo:

The river

The Danube is one of the most famous rivers in the world, along with the Nile, the Yangtze, the Amazon and the Mississippi. Along their routes are places of great natural and man-made beauty, as well as key sites in human history and culture.

The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe. Its path takes it through much of central and southeastern Europe, from the Black Forest into the Black Sea. The river makes its way through 10 nations – more than any other river in the world. The Danube begins in Germany and flows southeast for 1,770 miles. Along its route, it passes through or borders Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea. The river’s drainage basin extends into nine more countries. Many European borders, especially in the Balkans, also follow the route of the Danube.

The route of the Danube through Europe. (Image: Public Domain/
The route of the Danube through Europe. (Image: Public Domain/

Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Bratislava are among the largest cities on the Danube. They are also the capitals of their respective countries, which also means that the river passes through more national capitals than any other river in the world. In addition, five more capital cities lie in the Danube’s basin – Bucharest, Sofia, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Sarajevo. 

Interestingly, it’s not called the Danube in any of the countries it passes through. For example, in Germany the river is called the Donau, the Dunaj in the Czech Republic, and the Duna in Hungary. The Romans called it Danubius, based on an older Celtic name from which all the modern names are derived.

This map shows the darker area that encompasses the Danube's basin. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0/
This map shows the darker area that encompasses the Danube’s basin. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0/

The Danube divided nations and provide a route for commerce

The banks of the Danube have been the site of human habitation for millennia, and the river has been instrumental in many historical events and has defined historical borders. For almost its entire length the Danube was once the northern border of the Roman Empire. It provided a defensive line for the empire, as well as a “water highway” to transport troops and materials to Roman settlements downstream.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Danube continued to provide a defensive border for the  Eastern Roman Empire and then for the Ottoman Empire. The river’s separation between East and West would define the river’s story for centuries, particularly through World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

Since ancient times, the Danube also has served as a traditional trade route in Europe. Today, over 1,500 miles of its total length are navigable. In addition, the Danube is now linked to the North Sea via the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, which connects the Danube at Kelheim with the Main at Bamberg. The river is also an important source of hydropower, drinking water and food. 

The Danube in Vienna. (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/
The Danube in Vienna. (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/

Constantine the Great

Constantine I (February 27, 272 – May 22, 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was the emperor of the Roman Empire from 306 to 337 AD. He was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Born in what is now Niš, Serbia, Constantine was the son of Flavius Constantius, a Roman army officer who had been one of the four rulers of the Tetrarchy. The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293 to govern the ancient Roman Empire by dividing it between two senior emperors, and two junior emperors. The Tetrarchy marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. Constantine served with distinction under Diocletian and Galerius. His career as a soldier began in campaigns in the eastern provinces (against barbarians and the Persians). Then in AD 305 he was recalled to fight with his father in Britain. 

A modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed emperor in 306. (Photo: Chabe01/
A modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed emperor in 306.
(Photo: Chabe01/

After his father’s death in 306, Constantine became emperor. He was acclaimed by the Roman legions at Eboracum (now York, England), and eventually was victorious after civil wars against emperors Maxentius and Licinius. Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire by 324.

Following his ascension to emperor, Constantine began a series of reforms to strengthen the empire. He separated civil and military leaders, restructuring the government. To combat inflation, he introduced a new gold coin (the solidus, which was also known as the nomisma or the bezant). Constantine introduced the coin, and its weight of about 4.5 grams remained relatively constant. It became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than 1,000  years. 

A solidus with an image of Constantine. (Photo:
A solidus with an image of Constantine. (Photo:

Constantine also reorganized the Roman legions into two different forces – mobile units (comitatenses) and garrison troops (limitanei) – to make the army more capable of countering internal threats and barbarian invasions. Constantine then pursued successful military campaigns against various tribes on the Roman frontiers (such as the Franks, the Alamanni, the Goths and the Sarmatians). He then resettled territories abandoned by his predecessors during the Crisis of the Third Century with citizens of Roman culture.

Parts of a giant statue of Constantine. (Photo: Khan Academy)
Pieces of a giant statue of Constantine. (Photo: Khan Academy)

Although Constantine lived much of his life as a pagan, he began to favor Christianity in 312. He became a Christian and was baptized. Constantine played a key role in the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. He also convened the First Council of Nicaea in 325; it produced the statement of Christian belief known as the Nicene Creed. On his orders, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed at the purported site of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem and was deemed the holiest place in all of Christendom. Constantine has historically been referred to as the “First Christian Emperor” and is recognized for moving Christianity towards the mainstream of Roman culture.

Constantine’s rule was a distinct era in the history of the Roman Empire; many consider that he began the transition of the empire from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages. Among his actions, he built a new imperial residence in Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) after himself. Constantinople subsequently became the new capital of the empire for more than 1,000 years. The later Eastern Roman Empire is termed the Byzantine Empire by modern historians. He replaced Diocletian’s Tetrarchy; Constantine established the principle of dynastic succession, leaving the empire to his sons and other members of the Constantinian dynasty. 

The northern and eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire in the time of Constantine, with the territories acquired in the course of the 30 years of military campaigns between 306 and 337. (Image: Cristiano64/
The northern and eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire in the time of Constantine, with the territories acquired in the course of the 30 years of military campaigns between 306 and 337. (Image: Cristiano64/

July 5, 328

A bridge built across the Danube made its formal debut on this date 1,694 years ago. Constantine was present for the opening of the bridge, which became known as Constantine’s Bridge. It was built between the town and fortress of Sucidava (now the Romanian port town of Corabia) and the town of Oescus (near the present-day Bulgarian village of Gigen).

Roman architect Theophilus Patricius designed Constantine’s Bridge. Among the key architectural features of the wooden arch bridge were its masonry piers and wooden superstructure. It also had two abutment piers at each end. “Abutments are used at the ends of bridges to retain the embankment and to carry the vertical and horizontal loads from the superstructure to the foundation.” The abutments also served as gates for the bridge, helping to protect it from attack at either end. The bridge’s wooden deck was 19 feet wide and crossed the river 33 feet above the water.

Carnuntum Archaeological Park at Petronell: remains of an inn between reconstructed public baths (left) and a large urban house (right). The  inset is the "hypocaust" (heating system) in the baths. This 4th century outpost was near the River Danube and the border between Austria and Slovakia. (Photo: Roberto Piperno)
Carnuntum Archaeological Park at Petronell: remains of an inn between reconstructed public baths (left) and a large urban house (right). The inset is the “hypocaust” (heating system) in the baths. This 4th century outpost was near the River Danube and the border between Austria and Slovakia. (Photo: Roberto Piperno)

While the bridge was destroyed within 50 years of its construction, it is still remembered today because of its overall length of 7,995 feet. Of that length, 3,730 feet spanned the Danube’s riverbed. Constantine’s Bridge was the longest ancient river bridge and one of the longest of all time.

The Dacian kingdom in 82 BC. 
The Dacian kingdom in 82 BC.

A key reason for the construction of Constantine’s Bridge was the effort to reconquer Dacia. A Dacian kingdom of variable size existed between 82 BC until the Roman conquest in AD 106. The capital of Dacia was located in modern Romania; it was destroyed by the Romans, but the same name was used by the Romans for the new city built as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia. 

As the Roman Empire weakened, the Dacians overthrew their Roman rulers until Constantine again conquered the area. The Dacian kingdom included the present-day countries of Romania and Moldova, as well as smaller parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

FreightWaves Classics: Drayage is first-mile logistics (Part 1)

Intermodal containers on railcars after drayage moves. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)FreightWaves Classics provides an overview of drayage.

Intermodal containers on railcars after drayage moves. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

While the drayage function has been around for thousands of years, its importance has grown significantly in the past 70 years, following the introduction of the shipping container by Malcom McLean and his Sea-Land Corporation.


According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of drayage “is the work or cost of hauling by dray.” Also according to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term “drayage” occurred in 1791.

Many other sources describe drayage in similar ways. Most agree that in the shipping and logistics industries “drayage is the transport of goods over a short distance.” They also agree that drayage is often part of a longer overall move. According to Wikipedia, some research defines it specifically as “a truck pickup from or delivery to a seaport, border point, inland port, or intermodal terminal with both the trip origin and destination in the same urban area.” 

Drayage traffic near Port of LA. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Drayage traffic near the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

In today’s world of intermodal freight transport, drayage is generally considered to be the transport of containerized cargo by specialized trucking companies between ocean ports or rail ramps and warehouses or shipping docks. As generally practiced today, drayage specifically refers to short distance movements as part of the supply chain process.

Again, most sources would agree that drayage is a “key aspect of the transfer of shipments to and from other means of transportation.” While  drayage in the United States primarily refers to the movement of intermodal containers from one of the nation’s seaports to an off-port location, drayage can also refer to a pickup by vehicle to or from an inland/border point or an intermodal rail terminal.

In addition, drayage may also be defined and used as the term for the fee paid for such services. This use of the term is often used in the container shipping industry for international commerce.

There are subsets and different types of drayage as well (more on this below). However, port drayage is the term most often used when describing short hauls from ports and other areas to nearby locations. 

There can also be drayage within large buildings (such as shopping centers and convention centers) when goods are moved from a loading dock to an interior area. For many shopping malls, there may be a centralized loading area where receivers pick up their goods in order to limit road and parking congestion. 

In regard to trade shows and similar events, whether an exhibitor ships directly to the show site or to a show warehouse, every company’s exhibit needs to get from the loading dock to its respective spot on the show floor. Trade shows often employ outside services, delivering crates to each company’s designated exhibit space, and back to the loading dock after the show is complete.

An intermodal container being loaded on a truck. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)
An intermodal container being loaded on a truck. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)


Drayage is as old as shipping. The earliest forms of drayage have been around since the first ships carried goods from one port to another. 

When the term “drayage” began to be used it meant “to transport by a sideless or low-sided cart,” or a dray. Dray carts were pulled by dray horses, and were used to move goods of various types short distances such as from a dock to a larger wagon or railcar. The distance dray carts could be moved was determined in part by the physical limitations of a dray horse. Dray activities usually occurred at seaports, spreading to canal and rail terminals. Dray carts and horses were used from the 1500s to the early 1900s.

As shipping of imported and exported goods grew, a system to offload ships and move cargo from dock or pier to a distribution center or a different transportation mode was needed. As technology evolved, trucks eventually replaced the “dray” horses, providing more power and the ability to move goods more quickly. Eventually trucks became the standardized equipment for drayage.

In logistics terms, dray refers to the actual vehicle – today a chassis truck – used to carry out drayage. A dray truck transports containers over a short distance as a component of a longer shipping journey. The driver is referred to as the dray driver or in legacy terms, the drayman. 

The Intermodal Association of America (IANA) has noted that there are more than 60 million dray movements annually. Many loads require drayage at both the front- and back-end, and sometimes in the middle of the journey as well.

Although drayage is a very small component (in terms of both time and distance) of the supply chain, its cost and potential problems can be disproportionately high. 

A drayage truck hauling an intermodal container. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)
A drayage truck hauling an intermodal container. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

Key characteristics of drayage

Drayage is a specialty logistics service that is normally finished in one shift. Other forms of transportation take over after a drayage truck moves a container from a port to another location. 

The departure and arrival points are typically part of the same metropolitan area, in comparison to the regional or national movements seen in other forms of shipping.

During a routine freight move, in which numerous transportation methods are used for shipment (such as truck and rail), drayage occurs when the freight is transferred from the truck and placed on the train. At that time, shipping documents are updated, and possibly, the freight may be rearranged (split up or palletized) for the next leg of its journey.

A line of semi-trucks with intermodal containers with the Port of Tacoma in the background.
A line of drayage trucks leaving the Port of Tacoma. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Different types of drayage

Drayage services are not one-size-fits-all. Drayage is classified according to the services that it helps to link. Each classification is different and suits only certain types of container movement. In the end, it is a shipper’s call to decide what type of drayage is best suited for the transport of its cargo.

According to the IANA, there are six different classifications that are used to define drayage. These classifications are universal and serve as part of the vocabulary for those in the shipping business. 

Door-to-door drayage transports goods from one location (port, railhead, warehouse, etc.) directly to a receiver (either at a place of business or home). This type of drayage is often used in e-commerce fulfillment in which door-to-door delivery is offered.

This drayage method works best for cargo such as artwork or furniture to ensure safety and a minimum of damage.

Expedited drayage is usually the use of over-the-road transport for time-sensitive cargo or goods. This type of drayage transports cargo where it is needed urgently. Expedited drayage is a faster process than the other types of drayage on this list.

Drayage that is expedited requires that all transportation services are well-coordinated to avoid any unnecessary delays getting the cargo delivered to its destination.

Inter-carrier drayage refers to the transport of cargo between carriers, usually over a short distance. This is what comes to mind first when most people think of drayage. It involves the movement of goods between different carriers or from one mode of transportation to another.

As an example, inter-carrier drayage might involve transporting goods from a trucking terminal to a rail station, or moving goods from a port where a container was taken from a ship by a truck to a warehouse. 

Drayage trucks move intermodal containers. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Drayage trucks move intermodal containers. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Intra-carrier drayage involves a container being transported in a short-haul move between different freight terminals owned by the same company. For example, a carrier would take freight from its rail hub to its intermodal hub.

Pier drayage refers to the movement of cargo from a railyard or storage area to a pier where there is a ship that is waiting for the next leg of the cargo’s trip. With pier drayage a truck utilizes roads and/or highways to transport intermodal units to a dock or pier from a previous hub.

Shuttle drayage occurs when the hub of origin is full and cannot accommodate additional shipments. Some units are transported for temporary storage elsewhere. Shuttle drayage keeps containers and the goods they hold safe in storage until there is room for them. Shuttle drayage can also be a phase of inter-carrier drayage when containers need to be held at a lot or warehouse until the next mode of transportation is available – whether it be air, land or sea.

Shuttle drayage is used for both loaded and empty containers when overcrowding in the hub occurs.

Among the sources consulted for this FreightWaves Classics article were: ABCO, AsianUSA, BansarChina, BOA Logistics, Envase, FMI, FreightRight, Globecon Freight, Icontainers, InTek Freight & Logistics and Marine Insight. Thanks to each of these companies for the information provided.

FreightWaves Classics: The Kiowa served its nation in war and peace

The Kiowa moored pierside at Genoa, Italy in 1966. (Photo: Carlo Martinelli/ Classics profiles the USS Kiowa, which served the U.S. in war and peace.

The Kiowa moored pierside at Genoa, Italy in 1966. (Photo: Carlo Martinelli/

As anyone who has been around a harbor knows, tugboats are special boats that assist other vessels into and out of port. Tugboats’ primary purpose is to help move larger ships by towing, pushing and guiding them. They help much larger ships dock at a berth or leave a berth. They may serve many other purposes as well, such as helping propel barges, oil platforms, log rafts, etc. Tugboats may also work as salvage boats and icebreakers. Some also have firefighting accessories to provide firefighting assistance. 

While tugboats are usually much smaller than the ships they assist, they are powerful boats due to strong structural engineering and their propulsion systems. 

USS Kiowa (ATF-72) underway, date and location unknown. (Photo: National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors/
USS Kiowa (ATF-72) underway, date and location unknown.
(Photo: National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors/

The Kiowa story begins

On June 22, 1942 – less than seven months after the U.S. entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – construction got underway on a U.S. Navy tugboat that would serve in the war. 

The USS Kiowa was named for the Native American tribe that originally lived on the Great Plains. The tugboat was built by the Charleston Shipbuilding & Drydock Company at its Charleston, South Carolina, shipyard. The Kiowa was launched at the shipyard In November 1942.

The USS Kiowa underway. (Photo:
The USS Kiowa underway. (Photo:

War duties

Officially commissioned into the Navy as a fleet tug in June 1943, the Kiowa’s first skipper was Lieutenant William O. Kuykendall. That summer, the Kiowa was stationed for several months off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in the North Atlantic. Her key duties included towing a wide range of military ships and floating equipment.

The Kiowa was reassigned to the New York City harbor in March 1944. Her crew prepared the tugboat for more significant wartime responsibilities. The Kiowa then made her way across the Atlantic Ocean to England; she would take part in the D-Day landings of Nazi-occupied France. The U.S. Navy tugboat was part of the largest amphibious operation in world history.

An aerial view of part of the invasion fleet. (Photo: Public Domain)
An aerial view of part of the invasion fleet. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Allied landings of beaches in Normandy took place on June 6, 1944. (To read a FreightWaves Classics articles about the logistics of D-Day, follow this link.) Kiowa was part of a fleet of ships designated Task Group 122.3. The task force’s mission was to provide support as needed as Allied troops stormed the beaches of northern France. 

The Kiowa transported an array of firefighting and salvage equipment on D-Day, and its crew helped disabled ships and landing craft. The Kiowa and its crew continued to service Allied vessels off the coast of Normandy until July 25. “She was subsequently awarded a battle star for her contributions to that large-scale Allied victory,” which led to the eventual defeat of  Nazi Germany.

In the fall of 1944 the Kiowa returned to the United States. During the remainder of the war, she operated along the nation’s Eastern Seaboard, assisting and towing disabled vessels and escorting merchant ships to the convoy lanes. In addition, Kiowa served as a tanker, refueling ships at sea.

A patch worn by sailors who served on the USS Kiowa. 
(Mike Smolinski/
A patch worn by sailors who served on the USS Kiowa.
(Mike Smolinski/

1946-1959 and historic salvage efforts

During this period the Kiowa served as far south as the Panama Canal Zone and as far north as Newfoundland. Her duties included towing ships and engaging in salvage work.

An unusual assignment took place in May 1959. The Kiowa participated in the fledgling U.S. space program – she “recovered the nose cone of a Jupiter AM-8 missile that NASA had fired 300 miles into space from Cape Canaveral.” The missile’s nose cone contained two passengers, a rhesus macaque named Able and a squirrel monkey named Baker.

Able and Baker aboard the Kiowa after returning from space. (Photo: National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution)
Able and Baker aboard the Kiowa after returning from space. (Photo: National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution)

According to NASA records, “the missile’s nose cone splashed down in an area of the Caribbean Sea located about 40 miles north of Antigua.” The Kiowa’s crew retrieved the nose cone “and the spacefaring monkeys inside it at that site.” The two monkeys were the first to survive a spaceflight. 

The Kiowa took part in another high-stakes salvage effort in 1966. A hydrogen bomb fell into the Mediterranean Sea when the U.S. Air Force B-52G that had been carrying it collided with a refueling aircraft. The Kiowa was one of 28 U.S. Navy vessels sent to the Mediterranean to aid the Air Force in the search for the missing bomb. The search took over two-and-a-half months, but the bomb was located by a Navy submersible and retrieved from the seabed by another underwater vehicle.

A B-52G model. (Image:
A B-52G model. (Image:

The end of the line

The Kiowa remained a ship of the U.S. Navy in active service until 1972. At that time she was loaned to the Dominican Republic under terms of the Security Assistance Act. She was removed from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register on September 15, 1979, but continued to serve in the Dominican Navy under the name Macorix. The former Kiowa was decommissioned by the Dominican Navy in 1986 and returned to the U.S. Navy. The tugboat had served the U.S. Navy for 39 years and the Dominican Navy for 14 years. 

On December 12, 1994, the former Kiowa was sold for scrap by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service.

USS Kiowa towing a target sled into Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photograph taken from the anti-submarine warfare carrier USS Intrepid on February 27, 1963. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
USS Kiowa towing a target sled into Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photograph taken from the anti-submarine warfare carrier USS Intrepid on February 27, 1963. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

A potential economic recession and the supply chain bullwhip are colliding

A container ship stacked with containersFreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller analyzes the bullwhip effect on the current retail and trucking environments.

A container ship stacked with containers

Subtext: Supply chains are experiencing a massive bullwhip from the COVID economy and have built up massive inventory levels. A slowdown in consumer spending caused by inflation and a potential recession will have a massive impact on freight demand and prolong an inventory drawdown. 

As we look at the pandemic through the rearview mirror, the economy is shifting to a new phase. While the United States is currently experiencing full employment, American consumers are incredibly stressed about the state of the economy and personal financial security. Inflation, crashing stock markets, higher interest rates, and economic uncertainty are sapping any confidence that full employment should offer. 

For supply chains, the consumer pullback couldn’t come at a worse time. The bullwhip effect has created a massive overstock of inventories and wreaked havoc on global supply chains as companies try to recover from the pandemic economy. 

The bullwhip effect

The ‘bullwhip effect’ is a term used in supply chain circles to describe a scenario in which temporary surges in retail demand are magnified and exaggerated by upstream manufacturers and suppliers, who rapidly increase production well beyond the level that can be supported by consumers. Eventually, retailers find themselves with more inventory than they can sell, and what started as a goods shortage ends up as a goods surplus. 

If there is a single chart that shows the supply chain bullwhip effect, it is this one:

Inbound ocean shipments index
Source: SONAR  IOSI.USA (blue) IOTI.USA (green)

The chart displays an index of import shipments based on the number of bills of lading in blue and the corresponding container volumes in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in green. The two indices show how the ratio of containers to shipments has evolved during COVID.

Before COVID, the ratio of containers per shipment was fairly static and the two indices moved in tandem. Beginning in the summer of 2020, the container-to-shipment ratio exploded as Big Box retailers used their leverage to move more containers into their scheduled shipments. Smaller importers kept their container-to-shipment ratios more static, finding it harder to secure additional capacity on container vessels.

This continued until the fourth quarter of 2021, when Big Box retailers reverted to previous ratios, likely believing they had ample inventory on hand to handle demand. 

At that point, had consumer demand levels remained stable, the bullwhip effect would have played itself out gradually, as retailers burned off higher levels of inventories over time.

But on February 24, 2022, the world completely changed. Russia invaded Ukraine. Energy and food prices surged in response, setting off inflation rates that the Western world had not seen since the early 1980s. 

As inflation continued to accelerate into the spring, consumers pulled back spending on the very items they had previously consumed in excess. Retailers found themselves with even larger levels of inventories than previously forecasted and were forced to come clean in earnings reports and subsequent public announcements. 

After results from the first quarter of 2022 and the subsequent announcements of excess inventories and slowing consumer sentiment, the Big Box retailers pulled back on the quantity of containers per shipment. After all, why would you continue to order more if you had more than enough in stock? 

A full 77% of U.S. container imports come from industries that have reported massive supply gluts (retail, electronics, furniture, clothing, and appliances). FreightWaves anticipates continued weakness until inventories are worked back down to normal levels. 

chart showing container imports

Walmart was the first major Big Box retailer to report having too much inventory. Target was the second. The two Big Box retailers also happen to be the two biggest importers of containerized freight into the United States. Between them, they imported nearly 1.7 million TEUs in 2021, representing nearly 7% of all U.S. container imports. 

This past week, Nikkei Asia reported that Samsung was facing its own bullwhip effect of too much inventory and asked upstream suppliers to cut back production by as much as half in the month of July. Samsung was the seventh-largest importer into the United States in 2021. According to SONAR Container Atlas, Samsung imported 79,000 TEUs last month.  

SONAR container atlas
Source: SONAR Container Atlas

According to SONAR’s Container Atlas, on May 20th, the ratio of containers started to diverge again, this time dropping below pre-COVID norms. Since then, global shipment counts have dropped by 8% (green), while container bookings have dropped 36% (orange). 

inbound ocean shipments index
Source: SONAR IOSI.USA (green) IOTI.USA (blue)

Big Box retailers have responsive supply chains and can cancel orders quickly. Small importers tend to be slower to do so. They may not have the supply chain networks to respond to inventory issues as fast as the Big Boxes, but they also lack the leverage over their supplier networks to painlessly adjust orders up and down.

This softness in container markets will have a big impact on trucking in July, as the container slowdown hits North American ports. 

At this point in time, the trucking market continues to weaken. This is very concerning for mid-June (normally one of the hottest months in freight). The national spot index 7-day rolling average dropped from $2.07/mile on June 1 to $1.96/mile on June 20th. 


Tender rejections have dropped in the past week, hitting a new cycle low of 7.68%. Tender rejections are an indicator of trucking capacity conditions. Declining numbers indicate carriers are losing pricing power, while increasing numbers indicate carriers are gaining pricing power.

outbound tender reject index

Channel checks are now telling us that less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers (including the top-performing ones) are starting to see a slowdown. LTL is usually the last part of the market to feel a slowdown and the first to feel a recovery. LTL carriers handle smaller shipments from a wider portfolio of customers than truckload carriers, so they have more flexibility in maintaining shipment volumes and asset utilization through the cycle.

LTL is also more exposed to the industrial sector than truckload. We are also hearing that shippers (manufacturers, retailers, CPG, wholesalers) are seeing an acceleration in order cancellations and requests from customers to postpone deliveries.

There’s also a scramble for temporary warehouse space. Existing inventory isn’t selling at the expected prices, forcing companies to find incremental square footage to house newly arriving inventory. Shippers have slowed down moving containers out of the ports, causing container dwell times to lengthen.

Container spot rates continue to drop and should soon drop into negative year-over-year territory. The ocean carriers have far more pricing power than truckers do, but we don’t expect ocean container rate surges; in fact we expect the opposite – rates to continue to fall.

The weekly average of container spot rates from China to the U.S. West Coast has dropped from $15,551 on April 18 to $9,177 on June 16 – a drop of 41% – according to the Freightos Baltic Index.

FBX report

The daily price updates, which are available to SONAR subscribers, shows that container rates fell from the last weekly update on June 16. The updated overnight spot rate on the China to North America West Coast trade lane on June 20 is $8,965. 

Freightos Baltic Daily Index

Fuel is still a major factor for anyone involved in freight movement. Diesel continues to surge higher and is within spitting distance of $6.00 on a national level ($5.85/gallon). 

Diesel Truck Stop

Diesel powers the industrial economy. Freight, farming, and construction all depend on diesel. As the price of diesel surges, it hurts the cash flow of companies across the economy and makes the Federal Reserve’s job harder in tamping down inflation. 

July and August are always slower markets for freight – the so-called ‘summer doldrums.’ The conditions we currently see suggest that carriers should brace for even weaker conditions than normal. The Atlanta Fed’s high-frequency GDP tracker indicates the U.S. economy is already in a recession. 

For the freight markets and supply chains, it couldn’t come at a worse time. 

Interested in staying on top of what’s happening in the global physical economy? Check out SONAR, which provides the most comprehensive high-frequency supply chain data. 

FreightWaves Classics: SS Savannah was first steamship to cross the Atlantic

A model of the SS Savannah. (Built by Francis Fickett/ Classics profiles the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

A model of the SS Savannah. (Built by Francis Fickett/

In 1819 the SS Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The ship

The ship was being built in 1818 as a traditional sailing ship by the New York shipbuilding firm of Fickett & Crockett. However, while the ship was still on the slipway and being built, Captain Moses Rogers (with the financial backing of the Savannah Steam Ship Company), purchased the vessel. He instructed the shipbuilders to add an auxiliary steam engine and sidewheel paddles, in addition to ship’s the normal complement of sails. Rogers supervised the installation of the machinery. 

What was the purpose of the steam engine and paddlewheels? Rogers’ goal was to begin the world’s first trans-Atlantic steamship service. 

A diagram of the SS Savannah. (Drawn by G. B. Douglas/The Rudder, May 1919)
A diagram of the SS Savannah. (Drawn by G. B. Douglas/The Rudder, May 1919)

However, the ship was too small to carry much fuel (75 tons of coal and 25 cords of wood). Therefore, the engine was intended to be used only in calm weather, when the sails were unable to provide a speed of at least four knots. 

The ship’s wrought-iron paddlewheels were 16 feet in diameter with eight buckets per wheel. To reduce drag and avoid damage when the engine was not being used, the paddlewheel buckets were linked by chains instead of bars, which enabled the wheels to be folded up like fans and stored on the ship’s deck. In addition, the paddlewheel guards were made of canvas stretched over a metal frame; it could also be packed away when not in use. The process of retracting the wheels and guards only took about 15 minutes. The SS Savannah is the only known ship to have been fitted with retractable paddlewheels.

The Savannah was fully rigged like a normal sailing ship, with the exception of having no royal-masts and royals. Contemporary engravings of the ship show that the Savannah’s mainmast was set further astern than in other sailing ships of the time. This was done to accommodate the engine and boiler.

The ship also was equipped with 32 passenger berths divided among 16 large and comfortable staterooms. Quarters for women were “entirely distinct” from the men’s quarters. There were three fully furnished saloons, furnished with imported carpets, curtains and hangings, and decorated with mirrors. The ship’s interior was described as more closely resembling a pleasure yacht than a steam packet.

The SS Savannah. (By Unknown/in Steamships and Their Story by E, Keble Chatterton)
The SS Savannah under both steam and sail.
(By unknown/in Steamships and Their Story by E, Keble Chatterton)


When it was learned that Stevens intended to use the Savannah for trans-Atlantic service, critics and doubters in New York City began to call the ship a “steam coffin.” Because of that, Rogers was not able to hire a crew there. Instead, seamen were hired in New London, Connecticut. 

A short “sea-trial” of two hours was conducted in New York Harbor to test the Savannah’s engine on March 22, 1819. Less than one week later, (March 28) the Savannah sailed from New York to her operating port of Savannah, Georgia. On the morning of March 29 the ship’s steam-powered engine was started, but was only used for 30 minutes before being shut down due to rough weather. The paddlewheels were stowed and sail power was again used to keep the ship moving. The Savannah reached her namesake port on April 6. The steam engine and paddlewheels were used for 41.5 hours of the 207-hour voyage. 

A Presidential excursion

The fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, took part in an excursion aboard the Savannah shortly before her historic voyage.

President James Monroe. (Public Domain)
President James Monroe. (Public Domain)

A few days after the Savannah arrived in Savannah Harbor from New York, President Monroe visited nearby Charleston, South Carolina, on an inspection tour of arsenals, fortifications and public works along the East Coast (this was less than five years after the War of 1812 had ended). When the Savannah’s principal owner, William Scarbrough, heard about Monroe’s visit, he instructed Rogers to sail to Charleston and to invite the President to visit Savannah aboard the steamship.

Savannah departed under steam for Charleston on April 14, and arrived at Charleston on April 16. Scarbrough’s invitation to President Monroe was delivered, but Charlestonians objected to the president leaving South Carolina on a vessel from Georgia. Therefore, Monroe promised to visit the ship at a later date. On April 30, the Savannah left Charleston, and arrived on May 1 after a 27-hour voyage.

On May 11, President Monroe arrived to take his promised excursion on the ship. After the President and his retinue had been welcomed aboard, the Savannah departed under steam for Tybee Lighthouse. Monroe dined on board the ship and expressed his enthusiasm to Scarbrough regarding the prospect of an American vessel inaugurating the world’s first trans-Atlantic steamship service. 

In addition, President Monroe was impressed by the ship’s machinery, and invited Scarbrough to sail the ship to Washington after her trans-Atlantic crossing for an inspection by Congress. Monroe thought the ship could be used as a cruiser against Cuban pirates.

The first trans-Atlantic steamship leaving the port of Savannah in May 1819. (Painting: John Stobart/
The first trans-Atlantic steamship leaving the port of Savannah in May 1819. (Painting: John Stobart/

The first trans-Atlantic voyage

Following President Monroe’s departure, the Savannah’s crew, with Captain Moses Rogers in command and his cousin Stevens Rogers as sailing master, made final preparations for the Atlantic crossing. 

The ship’s owners sought passengers and freight for the voyage, but no one was willing to risk lives or property on the novel vessel. This was several years before steam-powered railroads were founded, and steam power was considered “too experimental and dangerous.” Therefore, the ship made her historic voyage with its crew only. 

At 5 a.m. on May 24, 1819, the Savannah set off for Liverpool, England under both steam and sail. Rogers ordered sail-only power that same day; however, during the voyage the ship was spotted by several others with smoke billowing from her stacks while it outran sailing ships along the route.

The schooner Contract spied a ship on May 29 “with volumes of smoke issuing,” and assuming it was on fire, followed it for several hours but could not catch the Savannah. Contract’s captain eventually concluded that it must have been a steamboat, and thought it “a proud monument of Yankee skill and enterprise.”

Then on June 2, the Savannah, moving at a speed of about 10 knots, passed the sailing ship Pluto. After being informed by Captain Rogers that his ship was functioning “remarkably well,” the Pluto’s crew gave the Savannah three cheers, as “the happiest effort of mechanical genius that ever sailed the western sea.” Savannah’s next recorded encounter took place off the coast of Ireland on June 19. The cutter HMS Kite made the same mistake as Contract three weeks earlier; it chased the steamship for several hours believing it to be on fire. Unable to catch the Savannah, Kite fired several shots from its cannons; causing Captain Rogers to halt the Savannah. The Kite’s commander then asked permission to inspect the ship. The British sailors were “much gratified” to satisfy their curiosity about the Savannah.

A painting of SS Savannah, 1819, by Hunter Wood
An 1819 painting of SS Savannah by Hunter Wood. (


By June 18 the ship had run out of coal and wood for its boilers. The Savannah was off Cork, Ireland, and sailed to Liverpool on wind power alone. By June 20, the ship reached Liverpool. Hundreds of boats sailed out of Liverpool Harbor to meet the unusual vessel, including a British sloop-of-war. The ship was greeted by large crowds when it anchored at 6 p.m. The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean had taken 29 days and 11 hours, of which 80 hours were under steam (or about 11% of the total time).

The Savannah stayed in Liverpool for 25 days, during which the crew scraped and repainted the ship, tested the engine, and replenished fuel and supplies. During the time it was in Liverpool, the Savannah was visited by thousands of people, including officers of the army and navy and other “persons of rank and influence.” On July 21 the ship departed Liverpool bound for St. Petersburg, Russia.


The Savannah reached Elsinore (now known as Helsingor), Denmark, on August 9. The ship was quarantined for five days and then sailed for Stockholm, Sweden on August 14. It became the first steamship to enter the Baltic Sea.

Moses Rogers. (Image:
Moses Rogers. (Image:

Arriving at Stockholm on August 22, the Savannah was visited by the Prince of Sweden and Norway on August 28. The ship was used for an excursion around local islands on September 1. This was attended by the “American and other ambassadors, nobles and prominent citizens.” 

While the Savannah was in port at Stockholm, the Swedish government sought to purchase the ship, but the terms were not good enough in Moses Rogers’ estimation and he rejected the offer. On September 5, Savannah departed for Kronstadt, Russia, and arrived there on the 9th.


The Emperor of Russia came aboard the Savannah and presented Captain Rogers with a gold watch and two iron chairs. From Kronstadt, the ship sailed on to St. Petersburg, arriving there on September 13. During the voyage from Liverpool to St. Petersburg, the Savannah’s engine was used more frequently (a total of 241 hours).

The American ambassador to Russia invited numerous prominent figures to visit the ship, and on September 18, 21, and 23, the Savannah made several steam-powered excursions in the waters near St. Petersburg. Those on the ship included members of the Russian royal family and other noblemen, as well as army and navy officers. As in Sweden, the Russian government tried to purchase the ship; once again Moses Rogers turned down the offer.

SS Savannah profile art print. (Robert North Jr./
SS Savannah profile art print. (Robert North Jr./

On September 27 and 28, the crew of the Savannah loaded coal and stores for the return journey to the United States. 

Homeward crossing

The Savannah sailed for Kronstadt on September 29 on the first leg of her journey. Several days of rough weather delayed the departure from Kronstadt, and the ship lost an anchor and a hawser (a thick rope or cable used to moor or tow a ship). The Savannah finally left Kronstadt under steam on October 10 bound for Copenhagen. It arrived there on the 17th, then  continued on to Helsingor to pay the toll to exit the Baltic. It then stopped at Arendal, Norway, where it waited out more bad weather before beginning its transit of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was plagued by gales and rough seas for almost its entire westward voyage. The engine was not used until the Savannah neared the United States. The crossing took 40 days; the ship steamed up the Savannah River and arrived safely back at the port of Savannah at 10 a.m., November 30, six months and eight days after she had departed.

A model of the SS Savannah. (Photo: National Museum of American History/Smithsonian Institution)
A model of the SS Savannah. (Photo: National Museum of American History/Smithsonian Institution)

Washington, D.C. and then bad luck

The Savannah only stayed at her home port until December 3. As was promised to President Monroe, she set sail for Washington, D.C., arriving there on the 16th. While the ship was docked at Washington, a major fire swept through the city of Savannah on January 20, 1820, severely damaging the business district. William Scarbrough and his partners, the owners of the Savannah, suffered financial losses in the fire and were forced to sell the ship.

Savannah’s engine was removed and sold for $1,600 (about $40,000 today) to the Allaire Iron Works, which had originally built the engine’s cylinder. It was preserved by James P. Allaire, and was later displayed at the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1856. 

After its engine was removed, the Savannah was used as a sailing packet, operating between New York and Savannah. However, the Savannah ran aground along the south shore of Long Island on November 5, 1821, and subsequently broke apart.

A mounted model of the SS Savannah along the Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo:
A mounted model of the SS Savannah along the Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo:


A hybrid sailing ship/sidewheel steamer built in 1818, the SS Savannah was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this historic voyage, the space taken up by her large engine and its fuel left little room for cargo, and the public’s anxiety regarding her revolutionary steam power kept the Savannah from being a commercial success as a steamship. 

Nonetheless, the Savannah proved that a steamship was capable of crossing the ocean. However, it would be almost another 20 years before steamships began making regular crossings of the Atlantic (and the first ships to do so were British). Another American-owned steamship would not cross the Atlantic Ocean until 1847.

The Savannah was the subject of a 3¢ U.S. commemorative stamp that was issued on May 22, 1944.

The 3-cent stamp issued on the 125th anniversary of the SS Savannah's trans-Atlantic crossing. (Image:
The 3-cent stamp issued on the 125th anniversary of the SS Savannah’s trans-Atlantic crossing.

FreightWaves Classics: Merchant mariners receive Congressional Gold Medal for World War II service 

The Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: Classics celebrates the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to U.S. Merchant Marine veterans of World War II.

The Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo:

National Maritime Day was established by the U.S. Congress in 1933. It is observed on May 22, the date in 1819 that the American steamship Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on the first ever transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. 

FreightWaves Classics missed the 2022 celebration of National Maritime Day. While the United States is the world’s largest importer of goods via ocean carriers, and also exports huge quantities of agricultural and industrial products via ocean shipping, it is now a nation with very few ships of its own. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Jones Act, many wonder if there would be any U.S.-owned ocean-going cargo vessels. 

The seal of the United States Merchant Marine. (Image:
The seal of the United States Merchant Marine. (Image:

At one time, the United States had one of the largest fleets of ships in the world. Today, however, three shipping alliances control 86% of the world’s ocean container shipping. None of the companies in the alliances are U.S.-owned. By contrast, OPEC controls just 40% of the world’s crude oil supply.

The United States is almost entirely dependent on ships owned by: the 2M Alliance (AP Møller-Maersk and MSC); the Ocean Alliance (CMA CGM, APL, COSCO, OOCL and Evergreen); and THE Alliance (Hapag-Lloyd, ONE and Yang Ming).

However, a review of the state of U.S. shipping will be held for another day. Instead, this FreightWaves Classics article will focus on another group of unsung heroes of World War II. 

World War II recruiting poster. (Image:
World War II recruiting poster. (Image:

Recognition of service during World War II

Earlier this week FreightWaves Classics posted an article about the anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944. FreightWaves Classics once again salutes the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who helped to liberate the world from fascist tyranny. 

In addition, more than 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine served their country during World War II. Of that all-volunteer group of men, 9,521 merchant mariners lost their lives between 1939 and 1945 – a higher proportion of those killed than in any military branch, according to the National World War II Museum. In addition, hundreds were detained as prisoners of war and nearly 2,000 U.S. merchant ships were sunk or damaged by enemy fire. Flashback Friday, this author’s precursor to FreightWaves Classics, featured an article recognizing the service of the Merchant Marine in World War II. 

What FreightWaves Classics missed, however, was that former President Donald Trump signed legislation passed by Congress (the “Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020”). The legislation was signed into law on March 14, 2020. The Act awarded “a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the United States merchant mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during that conflict.” The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress.

A World War II recruiting poster. (Image: Minnesota Historical Society)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: Minnesota Historical Society)

At that time, the following information was provided: “Awarded by the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal is presented to honor those whose dedication, heroism, and public service has created a lasting impact on American history. The United States Mint will design and strike the medal that will honor World War II merchant mariner veterans. This medal will then be awarded by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.” 

Retired United States Navy Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby was the Administrator of the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) when the legislation was passed. He said at that time, “Congress and President Trump’s awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to World War II merchant mariners is a fitting tribute to those who served with valor and distinction. With the memory of the sacrifices of World War II merchant mariners always with us, we honor their patriotism and service on this and every Maritime Day.” 

A World War II recruiting poster. (Image:

Gold Medal awarded

FreightWaves Classics also missed the Congressional Gold Medal award ceremonies to the U.S. Merchant Marine, which occurred more than two years after the Gold Medal was authorized. If it had not been for a conversation with a new friend of FreightWaves Classics – Ed Gor of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance – this article would not have been written. Thanks, Ed!

The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded on May 18, 2022, to the U.S. merchant mariners of World War II, who played crucial roles in the country’s war effort.

A World War II recruiting poster. 
A World War II recruiting poster.

During World War II, U.S. merchant mariners and the ships they sailed plied dangerous seas that were far too populated by enemy vessels. The merchant marine’s job was to help maintain the vital supply lines fueling the worldwide effort to liberate the world. Known as the nation’s “fourth arm of defense,” U.S. merchant mariners delivered nearly 270 billion long tons of cargo to the armed forces of the Allied Powers. That equates to an average of 17 million pounds of cargo every hour.

At the ceremony, which was held in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “[President Franklin D. Roosevelt] called their mission the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken.” 

The American Merchant Marine Museum in Kings Point, New York, is where the Congressional Gold Medal will be displayed. Also, each of the surviving merchant mariners (now estimated to be no more than 12,000 of the more than 250,000 that served during World War II) are eligible to receive a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal. 

Two of the merchant mariners who served during World War II – Charles Mills, 101, of Baltimore, Maryland, and Dave Yoho, 94, of Vienna, Virginia – attended the ceremony to represent their fellow mariners. 

A poster created for National Maritime Day in 1944. (Image: Public Domain)
A poster created for National Maritime Day in 1944. (Image: Public Domain)

First-hand observations

According to a Defense Department interview, Yoho enlisted in the merchant marine when he was only 15 years of age. He became a civilian merchant mariner at 16. Once he was a member of the U.S. Merchant Marine, he passed his basic training and then worked in the boiler room of a refueling tanker, which served ships in the South Pacific.

Yoho said it was his role to speak at the ceremony for the World War II mariners who can no longer speak for themselves. At the ceremony, Yoho said, “I’m speaking for 248,500 guys that are already dead. One out of 26 of us died [during the war], but thousands of us came home deprived of a part of our life. That’s probably one of the least-understood missions that ever was accomplished in modern warfare,” [speaking of the merchant mariners’ role supporting the U.S. military].  

A World War II recruiting poster. 
A World War II recruiting poster.

By 1943, the merchant marine had more ships than men because of the rate of loss. The age requirement for mariners was dropped to 16 to fill the manpower void, and Yoho was among those accepted. “In World War II, we had 130 million people in the United States. We put 16 million into uniform – 12.5% of our population,” he explained in an interview. 

“We brought home the scars of war,” Yoho said. “[We] delivered millions of tons of war materials to five continents.” 

A World War II recruiting poster. 
A World War II recruiting poster.

About merchant mariners 

During World War II, the civilian merchant mariners served as part of the U.S. military while delivering supplies and armed forces personnel by ship to nations engulfed in the war. What few know is that during wartime or a national emergency, the U.S. military can call the merchant mariners into service to transport personnel and supplies to wartime theaters.  

The merchant mariners became eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1988. As noted above, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the mariners’ federal-service school and is similar to those of the U.S. military branches. In his academy commencement speech in 2018, then-Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said the United States needs its merchant mariners for commerce and, when “storm clouds gather.” 

A World War II recruiting poster.
A World War II recruiting poster.

Remarks honoring the mariners

During the recent Gold Medal ceremony, MARAD Deputy Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley said, “The Medal is an inspiring depiction of the resolve of the mariners who sailed into harm’s way for our Nation when, more than 80 years ago, America became what President Roosevelt called the ‘arsenal of democracy.’ 

“As the United States and our allies fought tyranny, it was Merchant Mariners who delivered this arsenal – and many of the soldiers who fought with it – to shores around the globe. 

A World War II recruiting poster.
A World War II recruiting poster.

“Performance of this essential mission came at great risk. With reverence and gratitude, we remember the thousands of Merchant Mariners who were lost. We also honor and thank the more than 240,000 Merchant Mariners who served during World War II. 

“Finally, as I close, I note that just as it was during World War II, our Merchant Marine remains vital to the movement of the cargoes and supplies on which our military depends. I thank the American mariners sailing today who support our defense and our economic success.” 

A World War II recruiting poster. 
A World War II recruiting poster.

Receiving an award 

The following information is given to those who served in the Merchant Marine or are their relatives. 

MARAD announced eligibility criteria for duplicates of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to World War II merchant mariners. Eligible World War II merchant mariners, or their surviving next of kin, will now be able to request duplicate medals from MARAD. 

The Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020 authorizes MARAD to award duplicates of the medal to individuals who, between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946, were members of the United States Merchant Marine, or other related services. If a qualified individual has passed, MARAD is authorized to issue medals to the next of kin. 

Inquiries can be emailed to Katrina McRae, Maritime Awards Officer, at

A World War II recruiting poster. 
A World War II recruiting poster.

To those who served, and those who are serving in the merchant marine, thank you for your service!

US producer to generate 35 tons of green hydrogen daily in Belgium

A lake in the shape of a hydrogen pump is surrounded by green trees.Green hydrogen producer Plug Power is building a plant at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Belgium to help decarbonize the region’s logistics.

A lake in the shape of a hydrogen pump is surrounded by green trees.

Latham, New York-based Plug Power announced Wednesday it will produce 35 tons of green hydrogen a day at a new plant in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Belgium, starting in 2025.

The agreement includes plans to build a 100-megawatt green hydrogen plant on 28 acres of land that can produce up to 12,500 tons of liquid and gaseous green hydrogen annually. Green hydrogen is produced by using electrolyzers powered by renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

“As Europe grapples with the challenges of climate change and energy security, our agreement with Port of Antwerp-Bruges will deliver much-needed natively generated, green hydrogen to local markets,” Andy Marsh, CEO of Plug Power (NASDAQ: PLUG), said in a release

The plant is predicted to be commissioned in early 2025, following the anticipated completion of the permitting process in late 2023.

Minister-President of Flanders Jan Jambon noted: “Hydrogen plays an important role in the energy transition and at the same time offers many economic and societal opportunities for Flanders. Due to the strategic location of our ports and the expertise of our companies, research centers and educational institutions, we have all the assets to become the hydrogen hub of Western Europe. An opportunity that we must not miss. I am therefore very pleased to welcome Plug in Flanders,”

Port of Antwerp-Bruges as a hydrogen hub

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges handles 289 million tons of maritime freight, 108.5 million tons of barge freight and 24 million tons of rail freight annually, making it one of the busiest logistics areas in Europe, the release said.

The port is at the center of a major chemical industry cluster in Europe and can reach 60% of Europe’s purchasing power within 300 miles. Less than an hour’s drive to Brussels, the port is “set to become a major hydrogen hub for Europe,” the release said.

“The ambition for Port of Antwerp-Bruges is clear — to become the world’s first port that reconciles economy, people and climate. As well as growing in a sustainable way, the Port also aims to focus on its unique position as a logistics, maritime and industrial centre and to take the lead in the transition to a circular and low-carbon economy,” the port said.

A circular economy focuses on reusing products and turning them into different products instead of sending them to landfills.

Optimal plant location

The plant will be located in the port’s NextGen District. The area is dedicated to supporting a circular economy. Plug Power is exploring partnerships to complete the circular use of wastewater released during the production of green hydrogen.

“The signing of Plug Power is a confirmation of the attractiveness of our port and NextGen District. Their project is exactly what we have in mind when it comes to the circular economy. We are giving hydrogen every opportunity as an energy carrier and fuel and are therefore committing ourselves as an active pioneer in the hydrogen economy,” Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO for the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, said in the release.

Many heavy manufacturing industries have facilities surrounding the port. Plug Power will help decarbonize logistics flows in and around the port.

Wind turbines on-site and nearby will generate dozens of megawatts of renewable electricity to power the electrolyzers that produce green hydrogen. There is water, road, rail and pipeline access from the site to deliver it to customers. 

Plug Power signed a contract with natural gas distributor Fluxys to conduct a feasibility study for connecting this site to what will be an open-access hydrogen pipeline.

Decarbonization and energy independence

Many countries surrounding the North Sea have invested heavily in wind power, totaling more than 15 gigawatts of capacity, the release said. Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have recently committed to grow capacity to 65 GW by 2030 and 150 GW by 2050. 

REPowerEU, a $315 billion initiative, was recently launched by the European Union to support the shift from Russian fossil fuels to renewable energy, including green hydrogen.

“The energy crisis in Europe resulting from geopolitical risks has accelerated the demand for green hydrogen development projects,” Marsh said.

Plug Power is aiming to build out end-to-end hydrogen services around the world, including key regions such as North America and Europe.

“Plug is already one of the largest investors in the European hydrogen economy, and one of the largest employers in Europe among the hydrogen pure players. Our investment in a green hydrogen production plant in the heart of Europe deepens our commitment to the European market,” Marsh said. “Europe is determined to shift from foreign sources of fossil fuel energy to local sources of green energy, and we are helping to deliver on their vision.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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FreightWaves Classics/Leaders: Chao broke barriers leading federal departments

Elaine Chou, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Photo: USDOT)FreightWaves Classics profiles Elaine Chao, former secretary of the U.S. departments of Labor and Transportation.

Elaine Chou, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Photo: USDOT)

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Organizations across the United States are paying tribute to “generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success.” FreightWaves joins in that tribute. An earlier article profiled the U.S. Coast Guard’s Melvin Kealoha Bell.

To continue honoring Americans of Asian and/or Pacific Island heritage, FreightWaves Classics profiles a woman who has accomplished a great deal in a career in both the private sector and in public service. 

Elaine Chao. (Photo: Milken Institute)
Elaine Chao. (Photo: Milken Institute)


Elaine Chao is among the very few Americans who has been appointed to two cabinet positions – U. S. Secretary of Labor (by President George W. Bush) and U. S. Secretary of Transportation (by President Donald Trump). When she was unanimously confirmed to her first cabinet post as Secretary of Labor, she became the first woman of Asian American/Pacific Islander heritage to serve in a presidential cabinet. 

Earlier in her career, Chao was also President and CEO of United Way of America and Director of the Peace Corps. She previously served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation; Chair, Federal Maritime Commission; Deputy Maritime Administrator; and White House Fellow. 

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in 2017 at an Infrastructure Week event. (Photo: USDOT)
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in 2017 at an Infrastructure Week event. (Photo: USDOT)

Early life and career

Chao was born in Taipei City, Taiwan in 1953. In 1961, Chao and her family immigrated to the United States. When they moved to the U.S., Chao did not speak English. The family lived on Long Island, and Chao became a naturalized U.S. citizen when she was 19. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Mount Holyoke College in 1975 and her MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1979. 

Chao began her career working for several private sector financial institutions. Among her areas of expertise was transportation financing. Her career in public service began when she was appointed a White House Fellow. She was then appointed deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), in 1986. She held that position until she was named chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission in 1988. Chao was named deputy secretary of transportation at USDOT in 1989. 

In 1991, she stepped down from her USDOT position to become director of the Peace Corps. While she was not at the Peace Corps long, she established the agency’s first programs in the Baltic nations and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Chao left the Peace Corps in 1992, when she was named president and chief executive officer of the United Way of America. At the United Way, Chao led the effort to restore public trust and confidence in the premier institution of private charitable giving, after financial mismanagement and abuse was revealed. She worked at the United Way until 1996.

Elaine Chao's official portrait as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. (Photo:
Elaine Chao’s official portrait as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Secretary of Labor

Chao took office as the U.S. Secretary of Labor on January 29, 2001, and served in that position throughout both terms of President George W. Bush’s presidency (leaving office on January 20, 2009, when the new Obama administration took office). She was the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since World War II. 

As the first Secretary of Labor in the 21st century, Chao focused on the competitiveness of America’s workforce and updating department regulations to reflect the modern workplace. During her tenure, “the Labor Department updated white collar overtime regulations that had been on the agenda of administrations since 1977.” 

In addition, progress was made in worker protection. Among the milestones of the department were: “record low worker injury, illness and fatality rates; record back wages recovered; record monetary recoveries for workers’ pension plans; and the first major update of union financial disclosure regulations to benefit rank and file members in 40 years.”

President George W. Bush signs into law H.R. 4, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006. Joining him onstage in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building are, from left: Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao; Rep. Buck McKeon of California; Rep. John Boehner of Ohio; Senator Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; Senator Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., and Rep. Bill Thomas of California. (Photo: Kimberlee Hewitt/White House)
President George W. Bush signs into law H.R. 4, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006. Joining him onstage in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building are, from left: Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao; Rep. Buck McKeon of California; Rep. John Boehner of Ohio; Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas; Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming; and Rep. Bill Thomas of California. (Photo: Kimberlee Hewitt/White House)

Also during Chao’s tenure the department “updated Family and Leave Act regulations, spearheaded the Pension Protection Act, implemented the MINER Act and crafted new regulations to help energy workers and veterans. In addition, innovative workforce development programs were launched to empower workers to succeed in a knowledge-based economy.”

In summary, as U.S. Secretary of  Labor, Chao focused on increasing the competitiveness of America’s workforce in the global economy and promoted job creation opportunities. Under her leadership, the department updated outdated regulations and training programs to empower workers. The department also set “new records for workplace safety and health, compensation and retirement security.”

President Trump and Secretary Chao. (Photo:
President Trump and Secretary Chao. (Photo:

U.S. Secretary of Transportation

On November 29, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump announced that Chao was his choice to serve as U.S. Secretary of Transportation and to lead the USDOT. She was confirmed by the Senate on January 31, 2017, and sworn into office the same day. She served as the 18th secretary of transportation. 

Among the duties of the secretary of transportation, he or she is responsible for oversight of “the formulation of national transportation policy and promotes intermodal transportation. Other responsibilities range from negotiation and implementation of international transportation agreements, assuring the fitness of U.S. airlines, enforcing airline consumer protection regulations, issuance of regulations to prevent alcohol and illegal drug misuse in transportation systems and preparing transportation legislation.”

Less than two months after taking office as transportation secretary, Chao spoke at the open house that was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the USDOT’s founding. During her remarks, Chao highlighted some of USDOT’s achievements, as well as its ongoing objectives. “In the 50 years since the Department first opened its doors on April 1, 1967, we have seen an amazing transformation of our country’s infrastructure. Change, however, brings many challenges. And the Department of Transportation will be at the forefront of shaping this change, by focusing on the three priorities at the heart of our mission: enhancing safety, refurbishing infrastructure and preparing for the future.” 

As U.S. Secretary of Transportation, she was an advocate for safety and the importance of infrastructure and innovation in the economic competitiveness and growth of the United States.

In 2017, the USDOT announced a pilot program to “test and evaluate the integration of civil and public drone operations into the airspace system.” The next year, 10 applicants were selected to participate in the project. Then, in 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “issued an air carrier and operator certificate to UPS Flight Forward for drone deliveries to a hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.” In December 2019, after numerous drone-related incidents, the FAA proposed a new rule to “require drones to be remotely identifiable.”

Chao announced the formation of the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council in March 2019. The council was an internal USDOT group to identify “jurisdictional and regulatory gaps” when the department was considering new transportation technologies. The next month (April 2019), the FAA proposed new regulations to modernize the rules governing commercial space flight launches and reentries. However, at a Congressional hearing on the issue in July 2019, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation criticized the FAA proposal for not delivering on its stated goals.

On January 7, 2021, Chao announced that she would resign as secretary of transportation effective January 11, 2021. (She would have left office on January 20 when the Biden administration came into office.) In a statement, Chao said, “Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”

Sen. McConnell and Elaine Chao. (Photo:
Sen. McConnell and Elaine Chao. (Photo:

Power couple

In 1993, Chao and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, were married. McConnell is currently the U.S. Senate Minority Leader, and previously was the Senate Majority Leader. 

McConnell and Chao are considered one of Washington’s key power couples. However, their marriage has also meant that both have been targets of those who oppose their politics, policies or positions.

Free trade is dead, welcome to ‘Freedom Trade’ 

Image of U.S. and Chinese flags, with a rupture between them indicating conflict.FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller lays out the premise of Freedom Trade.

Image of U.S. and Chinese flags, with a rupture between them indicating conflict.

American enterprises and consumers should move away from Chinese dependency and demand that supply chains are orientated toward what I call the “Freedom Trade,” a system built on the idea that the rule of law, domestic free markets, human rights, and environmental standards are necessary for global prosperity and peace. 

Supply chains operate best when there is predictability and peace – and the only way to guarantee this is to ensure that countries operate within the Freedom Trade system.  

Three images showing a refinery, rail tanker cars and a tanker truck
Supply chains take many forms, but work best under the Freedom Trade model. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Post-Cold War prosperity for much of the world

The most productive and safest period in human history has taken place over the past 30 years, thanks to the foundation that America helped to build during the Cold War. The implosion of communism in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) left the world with an uncontested superpower (at least for a period of time). China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 began a new era of global economic integration. 

Capitalism spread wealth far and wide, benefiting nearly every civilization and country. Living standards increased to unprecedented levels. The world became oriented toward market-driven economies and countries participated in free trade. American-designed technology and information networks proliferated, offering electronic commerce and the ability for countries and entrepreneurs to sell their goods to a worldwide audience. 

Consumers shop for goods
Consumers shop for goods. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The world became connected in ways that few would have imagined in the Cold War era. Countries that shifted their economies toward global markets were largely rewarded with capital investment and prosperity. 

The United States played global policeman; we weren’t perfect, but the international order was far more predictable than during the great power near-peer conflicts that plagued the past few centuries. The world became a much more peaceful place under the American globalization system than it had been before it. (And that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been conflicts within or between nations and terrorism has been a cancer across the globe.)

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier groups that were built after World War II and since have practiced ‘gunboat diplomacy,’ ensuring that trade lanes were open and protected from those that would jeopardize commerce and (relative) peace. 

An aircaft carrier on the world
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford in the Atlantic Ocean.
(Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Connor Loessin/U.S. Navy)

The world’s economies since the end of the Soviet Union

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, America’s primary expectation of and for other countries was to allow global commerce to proliferate. If a country participated in the U.S.-led international trade regime, it gained far more than it gave up. 

Countries that had once been mired in poverty due to lack of capital found that if they participated in the American free-market system, they generally would be rewarded with peace and prosperity. And many countries did participate. 

This was first seen in Germany and Japan, the nations that lost World War II. The United States helped rebuild their economies, and since then they have prospered mightily. Others followed, including China, Vietnam, Russia, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, and countries throughout Eastern Europe. All experienced rapid growth and prosperity – often benefiting from America’s free trade system far more than America itself did. 

When nations joined the American free trade system, they were expected to create open and free markets at home. Countries were also expected to ensure (to one degree or another) standards for human rights, the environment, and rule of law that were more common in advanced Western-oriented economies.

The strength of the American free-market system was that it relied less on hard power (military) and more on market power and consumer opinion. American free markets had always relied upon proxy power in the form of a global currency and the purchasing power of global consumers. If a country violated rules that either the market or consumers had established, the violating country or business would be punished by losing American dollars. 

And for the first 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the proxy power of American free markets worked exceptionally well. Countries and businesses that operated under this model were rewarded with unprecedented prosperity. In nearly all parts of the world, the standard of living quickly increased. 

The People’s Republic of China does it differently

No country benefited more than the People’s Republic of China. 

China, which suffered under some of the most incompetent and unjust leadership in the period from 1949 through the Cold War, began to ascend from an impoverished backwater to a world economic and military power. From 2000 to 2010, China’s GDP per capita more than quadrupled. 

A truck pulls a container at the Port of Shanghai
A truck at Shanghai’s deep-water port container terminal. (Photo: Shutterstock)

In the earliest part of its ascension towards economic prosperity, China did develop a stronger orientation toward American free markets. It even developed a semi-market-driven domestic economy that allowed Chinese citizens to benefit significantly from prosperity and acquire property. 

But as China became wealthier, the American version of the free market became far less appealing to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP wanted American free-market prosperity, but without offering the rule of law, domestic free markets, human rights, or environmental standards. The Chinese wanted to mooch off the free market but offer little in return. 

A row of soldiers marching with guns in ceremonial uniforms.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China highlighted China’s increased human rights abuses in a recent report. [Photo: Flickr/Digi_shot]

The United States paid a massive price for allowing China to “have its cake and eat it too.” The American working class was hollowed out as jobs and production were outsourced to Chinese manufacturers. Moreover, Chinese markets were never truly open to American businesses and the Chinese track record on human and environmental rights is abysmal. 

And the world was willing to play along… As long as China was willing to build the infrastructure and systems that enabled global supply chains to benefit from cheap labor and manufactured goods, the free market looked beyond the failings of the Chinese government and its unwillingness to participate in American-led standards. 

But that recently changed.

Two people in hazmat-suits drive
Food distribution in locked-down Shanghai. (Photo: Graeme Kennedy/Shutterstock)

When China locked down roughly half of its economy, it exposed the world to a disturbing reality – the more dependent we are on Chinese supply chains, the more vulnerable the American free-market system is, thus endangering peaceful trade and global prosperity.  

China has attacked the very system that has enabled it to prosper and has stated its intention to create a new system, based on Chinese governing principles. It aspires for a world not of American principles of economics, but rather centrally planned control and artificial prosperity. The Chinese version of a prosperous system has little regard for individual rights, environmental standards, or free markets. 

Therefore, Freedom Trade demands that autocratic regimes stop trying to manipulate the markets in which they operate. Otherwise, they artificially impact the supply chains that global businesses depend on and can cause great damage to the entire Freedom Trade system. 

And since supply chains prosper when all parties have a mutual understanding and aligned goals, the world will once again enjoy supply chain prosperity and transparency.