August 26, 2023

Top 5 FreightWaves history articles from 1st half of 2023


FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. These stories give deeper insight into both famous and lesser-known tales from yesteryear.

Here are five of the most popular stories from FreightWaves Classics in 2023 so far, in no particular order.

The worst rail disasters in freight history

The crisis in Ohio from the Norfolk Southern train derailment earlier this year reminds the industry of the critical importance of safety. However, as devastating as this accident has been to the area, its environment and its wildlife, damage from some earlier derailments was immeasurably worse. While technology and regulations have dramatically improved safety and saved lives, there is still a long way to go. This is a list of some of the most impactful freight train derailments in world history.

Experimental propeller in 1975 breaks midtrip, but crew notices no difference

FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago. In this edition, from the May 1975 issue of American Shipper, FreightWaves revisits a detailed account of an experiment on the seas.

The sister ships Ultramar and Ultrasea were as similar as peas in a pod until you looked closely at their sterns. There, tucked out of view beneath the fantail and behind the rudder, the Ultrasea displays a sharply pointed propeller which bears more resemblance to a set of cowboy spurs than it does to the fulsome curves associated with most ship propellers — including that of Ultramar. The propeller proved its worth when it broke midway through the trip and the crew did not notice until docking.

Yellow’s demise: 2 decades in the making

While Nashville, Tennessee-based Yellow Corp.  saw operations deteriorate rapidly in recent months as it unsuccessfully tried to push through operational changes with its union workforce, its ultimate failure was anything but sudden. A series of large less-than-truckload and other acquisitions meant to transform Yellow into a global transportation and logistics leader, the ambition of former Chairman and CEO William “Bill” Zollars, were the catalysts for an eventual downfall. 

At 50, FedEx faces new opportunities and challenges

FedEx began flying 50 years ago, but the concept that bore that era’s legend in the making came well before that. A Yale Business School student named Fred Smith came up with an idea to build a fast-cycle delivery network with an integrated air-ground operation. The Yale paper proposed that one company would have “custodial control” over a package or letter from end to end using its network of owned assets.

Was Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the Edmund Fitzgerald accurate?

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was released a year after the tragedy of the famous shipwreck in Lake Superior, and its lyrics hold true to the real story. The songwriter was inspired by an article he had read on the sinking of the ship. The Edmund Fitzgerald set sail on Nov. 9, 1975, with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets of processed iron ore and 29 crew members. It launched from Burlington Northern Railroad Dock No.1 in Superior, Wisconsin, and joined up with another ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, which had departed Two Harbors, Minnesota. It would be the ship’s final journey.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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