It happens about six times a day down on Savannah’s historic waterfront.
A mammoth container ship sails past on its way to the tall cranes of the busy port upriver.
Tourists gawk, snap pictures and go about their business.
And it’s easy to miss the connection.
Those tourists wouldn’t be in Savannah if not for the prosperity that those ships brought and continue to bring.
“Savannah’s opulent homes still stand as a reminder of the past and present global economic achievements of the colonists,” says Robert Jepson, a member and former chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority board.
Jepson spoke about the past, present and future of the Georgia’s ports as part of Telfair Museums exhibit “Port City,” on display through January fourth, which looks at the seaport from artists’ perspectives.
Jepson talked about the port’s history at his namesake Jepson Center for the Arts, a fact that wasn’t lost on those in attendance.
The businessman and philanthropist needs no introduction in Savannah.
But the port always needs re-introduction.
That’s because the numbers that document its success are always changing.
Consider these facts, presented by Jepson in this 42-minute presentation.
About 8% of all U.S. containerized trade passes through the Port of Savannah.
The Georgia Ports Authority supports 352,000 jobs in the state.
Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, Wal-Mart, Hasbro and Sears all ship cargo through massive distribution centers located near the port.
“Georgia’s ports have brought the world to our doors and at the same time opened Georgia’s doors to the world,” Jepson says.
Jepson gave an outline of the port’s history, including:
The first Georgia exports sent directly to Europe, in 1749. Deerskin, hogs and tar were among are first exports.
The first Georgia bale of cotton shipped, in 1788. This was five years before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin on what’s now Georgia Ports Authority property.
The chartering of the Central of Georgia Railroad, in 1833.
The creation of the Georgia Ports Authority, in 1945.
And many, many more.
But perhaps the biggest change came with the introduction of containerized cargo in 1977.
“This necessitated vast investments in infrastructure,” Jepson says. “Some ports, such as our port here in Savannah, adapted quickly and became a port of preference for shippers looking to take advantage of containerization.”
The port of Savannah has grown with containerized cargo and now is the fourth-busiest port in the country.
Jepson chronicles this history and some of the people who made it possible.
The talk provides a window into the city’s larger history and the Jepson Center exhibit.
“The city was born as a seaport from its very beginnings,” Jepson says. “And it is the sea, combined with innovation and technology, that has nourished and today continues to nourish Savannah and Georgia shores.”