The Ports of LA

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LA is home to two large ports, which collectively would make the 8th largest port in the world. The story of the port industry in LA is an interesting one, full of corruption, swindling, and cut-throat competition.

In the late 1800’s, docking in Los Angeles was a detested necessity. The port in San Pedro was in a difficult area with heavy waves, shallow mud flats, rocky shores, and overall very difficult access. Access required careful attention, and even rowing the giant boats into shore to avoid damaging the propeller. Furthermore, getting to the main transit areas from San Pedro was difficult, which was why Collin P. Huntington called for the construction of a railroad to connect and save transportation costs.

However, Huntington’s purpose was not to spread these savings to the transport companies, but instead keep them for himself. As cargo was being transported across his rail line, he would go so far as to check the books, and see the value of the cargo to best squeeze every penny he could. Normally, the cargo would cost more to move the 25 miles from San Pedro to Los Angeles than the 7,000 miles from Hong Kong to San Pedro, but due to Huntington’s monopoly, few alternatives were available.

Eventually, competition emerged to challenge the railroad tyrant, which led to a vicious price war. Huntington’s deep pockets allowed him to charge low prices for long enough to bankrupt the competition, and buy them out. Huntington sought to further monopolize the California port industry with a new construction in Santa Monica. However, the citizens revolted, causing a grass-roots backlash that made its way to the California congressional floor. After bribing, swooning, and lobbying, Huntington won the first fight in the house, but eventually lost support in the senate, causing his port monopoly to come to an end.

With laxed importation standards, the popularity of the ports surged as with the commerce in Los Angeles. Santa Monica restored construction of piers, letting way for the famous Santa Monica Pier. Long Beach became a sprawling city with a giant port, and Los Angeles remains the number one choice for transporting into Western United States. If the story had unfolded any differently, the face of Los Angeles would look quite different.

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