The comprehensive history of the Alaska Packers Association as well as a study of the extraordinary impact new shipping technology has had on the world.
Dyal (Historical Dictionary of the Spanish American War, 1996) has written a labor of love, painstakingly researched over 10 years and the result of half a century of fascination with the shipping industry. The book is essentially a kind of historical catalog of all the large vessels owned, chartered, or otherwise managed by the Alaska Packers Association from 1893 until 1945. Replete with black-and-white photos, the book is neatly organized according to the relationship each vessel had with the association and then by ship type. Dyal makes a compelling argument for the scholarly significance of his efforts: in several ways, the Alaska Packers was an unprecedented company. The largest and longest operating fleet of its kind, it was not primarily designed to produce revenue of its own but rather as a kind of “instrument enabling profit,” transporting workers and supplies. Even more intriguing, though, is Dyal’s contention that the story of the association’s technological transformations is of considerable social significance. “The adoption and adaptation to new technology can be both disruptive and emotional,” he writes. “In the multi-millennial history of commercial sail, the most controversial and perhaps interesting period comprises the years 1870-1920, when maritime transport underwent foundational change.” More reference guide than opportunity for leisurely reading, this impressively exhaustive compilation of ships will, of course, primarily interest the most devoted aficionados. However, the introduction could be of broader interest, as it uses the association’s development as a microcosm of the way technological advancements push and shape commerce.
A diligent, exacting contribution to a small but important historical record.