But despite the railroad’s transformative effects and enduring importance, it was eclipsed by innovations in the twentieth century. The rise of cars and paved roads led to more people traveling individually and facilitated the trucking industry, especially after World War II as the U.S. interstate highway system expanded.
And then came commercial air travel.
1940s: Feel like waking up in New York and falling asleep in London? Now you can.
The early twentieth century saw historic moments in air travel: the Wright brothers flew the first airplane in 1903 and Charles Lindbergh flew the first nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927. But it was not until after World War II that air travel revolutionized transportation. In 1945, the International Air Transport Association was established. Today—just sixty years after the first passenger jet flew across the Atlantic—approximately six hundred flights carry travelers between the United States and Europe every day.
Not only did planes make it easier for people to travel, but they made international cargo shipping more efficient too. The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act essentially introduced a free market to the airline industry, allowing airlines to set their own fares and routes for the first time. Newly deregulated, the industry dramatically changed, with routes altering, fares dropping, passengers increasing, and companies quickly forming. Deregulation also facilitated the growth of commercial shipping enterprises such as FedEx and UPS, which were now able to use much larger aircraft than they had been. Around the same time that the Airline Deregulation Act came into effect, reduced tariffs and further technological innovations helped increase global trade and travel. The culmination of these events led to more goods crisscrossing the globe every day, which is why the seemingly mundane shipping container became a building block of the globalized world today.