Port of Los Angeles: Port Report
With its grand opening in 1907 and a prime location on the San Pedro Bay in California, the Port of Los Angeles has been considered the United States' largest seaport since 2000.

by | Feb 1, 2024

Port of Los Angeles Aerial View

“America’s Port” located in San Pedro Bay

With its grand opening in 1907 and a prime location on the San Pedro Bay in California, the Port of Los Angeles has been considered the United States’ largest seaport since 2000. With over 20% of cargo coming into the United States passing through the port, it’s easy to see how the Port of Los Angeles has become a beacon of international trade and earned the title of the nation’s busiest container port.

History of The Port of Los Angeles

Vincent Thomas Bridge and railyard against a golden sunrise.

The Port of Los Angeles began life in 1871 when a channel in San Pedro Bay to the city of Los Angeles’ Wilmington neighborhood was dredged by entrepreneur Phineas Banning. While the bay handled goods and passengers prior to this, there was no wharf on the LA waterfront, making it challenging for ships to offload their contents upon arrival to the west coast. With the dredging of the channel bringing it to a depth of 10 feet, cargo ships were able to pass into and out of the port more easily, leading to 50,000 tons of shipping occurring at the port in 1871 alone. Later, Banning continued to develop the port, and built a railroad connecting the San Pedro Bay to Los Angeles, making the port even more appealing to arriving cargo ships.

The Free Harbor Fight

Following Banning’s death, some conflict, now called the Free Harbor Fight, arose regarding the best location for the port. Railroad baron Collis Huntington and the Southern Pacific Railroad, a major railroad network operating in the western United States from the mid-19th century to the end of the 20th century, wanted the primary location for the Port of Los Angeles to be in Santa Monica, even going so far to build a wharf there. His goal was to establish a monopoly, but the Los Angeles Times and US Senator Stephen White opposed the plan. The resulting lawsuit ultimately determined that Los Angeles should be a ‘free’ harbor, independent of the influence of any specific single railroad, though the Southern Pacific Railroad was still permitted to operate there.

Development of the Los Angeles Harbor Department

A tugboat supports a container ship while docking.

Following the conclusion of the Free Harbor Fight, the Port of Los Angeles began to develop further in its location on the LA waterfront, and the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners was founded in the city in 1907 to manage the port. By the 1920s, the Port of Los Angeles surpassed San Francisco to become the West Coast’s busiest seaport, and several expansions took place throughout the rest of the 20th century, including harbor improvements such as breakwater construction and the construction of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, connecting the mainland to Terminal Island. By the end of the 1980s, the port was a major player in international trade, handling over 1 million containers per year, and by 2013, that number had increased to half a million.

The Port of Los Angeles today

Megaship Elenora Maersk docked at sunset.

Today, the Port of Los Angeles is a thriving seaport, remaining the #1 Container Port in the United States, and in 2022 alone the Port moved 9.9 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in its second busiest calendar year on record, second only to the previous year’s 10.7 million TEUs. The port is also a leading employer in Southern California, with over 1 million jobs related to trade through the port driving economic growth in the area.

How many container terminals does the Port of Los Angeles have?

Strategically located on the LA waterfront, the Port of Los Angeles is designed with an impressive depth of canal standing at 53 feet (or approximately 16 meters), a testament to the city’s commitment to facilitating seamless and efficient global trade. The port maintains and operates a staggering 25 cargo ports, equipped with 82 state-of-the-art cargo cranes, meticulously designed and engineered to handle various types of cargo. Further enhancing its operational capabilities are its eight container terminals, each terminal playing a pivotal role in the intricate network of global supply chains. These terminals are spread across an expansive area, covering 113 kilometers, or roughly 182 miles, of in-line freight. This vast network underscores the port’s capacity to handle a high volume of cargo and its commitment to providing clients with high-quality, personalized, and cost-effective freight services on the west coast.

What initiatives is the Port of Los Angeles undertaking to promote sustainability?

Brown pelican on a perch in the Los Angeles Harbor

As the nation’s largest and busiest port, the Port of Los Angeles has a duty to lead the way in sustainability efforts within the global trade and supply chain sphere. At Sumisho Global Logistics USA, we acknowledge and appreciate their commitment to sustainability. Their efforts span various domains, such as site restoration, marine life protection, and water quality enhancement. Site restoration initiatives aim to restore the port property to a clean, usable state by reducing environmental risks and impacts. This is achieved through rigorous health and environmental risk assessments, regulatory reviews, and negotiations with local, state, and federal agencies for effective cleanup of contaminated sites.

The Port of Los Angeles balances the needs of international commerce with the protection of natural resources. This includes a robust focus on the local marine environment and wildlife, ensuring that cargo movement and infrastructure improvements do not compromise the harbor’s natural resources. Over the years, the west coast port has led numerous environmental protection initiatives, resulting in significant improvements in the local environment, air and water quality, and habitat preservation. Despite ongoing challenges, the port continues to implement programs to further improve harbor conditions, demonstrating its commitment to responsible growth and innovative development.


Clean Air Action Plan

Cranes against a clear blue sky

In 2006, in partnership with fellow the Port of Long Beach, the Port of Los Angeles enacted the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), an air quality plan aimed at reducing health risks and air pollution related to the ports. This ongoing plan seeks a way to balance economic development and supply chain activity at the port while reducing air pollution, and includes programs aimed at vessel pollution reduction and Clean Trucks. The plan has also introduced advanced new technologies at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, such as the world’s first hybrid tugboat. With updates as recently as 2017, this ongoing effort has successfully seen a major reduction in emissions at both ports since its implementation.


Conclusion

A container ship being unloaded at night.

The Port of Los Angeles has evolved from a contested harbor proposition in the late 19th century to the busiest container port in the United States. Its continuous development over the years since its grand opening, under the management of the Los Angeles Harbor Department, has led to infrastructural improvements and expansions of warehouse facilities.

Today, the port operates 25 cargo ports and eight container terminals, facilitating the movement of millions of TEUs. Moreover, it significantly contributes to the Southern California economy by supporting over a million jobs. Notably, the Port of Los Angeles has taken a leading role in promoting sustainability in global trade, implementing site restoration initiatives, marine life protection, and water quality enhancement measures. Its Clean Air Action Plan, in partnership with the Port of Long Beach, is a testament to its commitment to balancing economic growth with environmental responsibility. As an integral part of the global supply chain, Sumisho Global Logistics USA recognizes and values these efforts, affirming our commitment to sustainability and diligence in navigating the continually evolving landscape of international commerce.

All photos courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles.

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