After 190 years, the past fuses with the future

Change now seems to come dizzyingly fast, with the promise and risks of tech acceleration, e-commerce domination, and carrier consolidation. News headlines and self-described thought leaders say the shipping industry and the wider world are undergoing such breakneck changes that the present will seem foreign in just years. Yet a survey of the history of the Journal of Commerce through the 190-year backdrop of shipping and global events grounds the whirl of the present. 

A US president temporarily shutting down the JOC presses, two world wars, and two Panama Canal openings tend to do that. The importance of some major global changes is not always realized, but the shipping and larger world would be dramatically different without them. Take the lifting of the US trade embargo against China in 1971 or Malcom McLean’s conversion of the tanker Ideal X into a container ship that transported 58 containers from Port Newark to the Port of Houston in 1956. 

Created by the man who transformed communications with the invention of the telegraph, the Journal of Commerce’s history is interwoven in not just the birth of shipping containers, but also a change more than a century before and just as transformative. Yes, containerization powered contemporary globalization, but the steamship and the regularity it could provide 19th century shippers created the vessel for global trade growth acceleration. 

When Samuel F.B. Morse in 1827 launched the Journal of Commerce — then a 35-by-24-inch broadsheet — shippers were just beginning to enjoy regular sailing schedules as merchant vessels began following timetables rather than departing when passenger quarters were filled. To stay ahead of competitors, the JOC’s own deepwater schooner raced to ships entering the United States from Europe to get the latest news from London, Paris, and elsewhere. 

That schooner eventually was scrapped, although the winds that filled its sails continue. The vessel may have changed, but the JOC’s mission to provide readers with reliable, business-critical information while challenging the industry toward excellence continues. 

How the JOC delivers the news is changing, as seen in our latest print redesign in the Dec. 11 magazine, and’s revamped and expanding online market data hub. Come early 2018, readers will find it even easier to get their JOC news and analysis via their smartphones. 

What is not changing is just as important. Although so much news and so-called analysis becomes disposable, slanted, and incorrect, the JOC’s mission to provide well-sourced, data-driven, and clear-eyed news and analysis is unchanged. 

Contact Mark Szakonyi at and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.