Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960–1970

One Size Fits All

One Size Fits All

Containers—steel boxes stuffed with goods—and the systems for transferring them between ships, trucks, and trains transformed commercial shipping. Containerization streamlined freight handling and slashed the cost of transporting cargoes of all kinds. It also stimulated big changes for waterfront workers, and for the waterfront itself. 

In San Francisco, ship owners and longshoremen (who load and unload ships) debated how newly mechanized work would be performed. With fewer men needed to handle containers, longshoremen faced huge job losses. They demanded compensation from the shipping companies. In 1960 the two groups negotiated a labor contract that eased the transition but forever changed waterfront work. At the same time, San Francisco and Oakland, rivals across the bay, responded differently to the container revolution. With acres of flat land and access to railway and road networks, Oakland embraced the new technology. San Francisco, lacking both, lagged behind and was quickly bypassed as the area’s primary port.

Container ship model, 1969

Container ship model, 1969

The Newark was built as a C-4 troop transport in 1945. The Sea-Land Corporation converted it to carry containers in 1968. It could carry 272 containers in its hold and on deck. 

Woolen work shirt with ILWU logo

Woolen work shirt with ILWU logo

This shirt wat worn by Herb Mills during his 30-year career as a member of ILWU Local 10, San Francisco.


The last stop is behind you. Walk toward the image of Los Angeles.