The Industrial Revolution Began With The Sailing Ship
The Industrial Revolution, like all periods of history, continued trends that were already in existence. It is only in retrospect that we can discern great changes. The people of the time only saw small changes that were the logical development of previous small changes.
This is very much the case with the Sailing Ship – the first technology of the Industrial Revolution – which, like the Windmill, depended on Air Power. A parallel development was Water Power, which worked much the same way – gears turning gears. Which, in turn was like the Clock – the most important development of its age.
All this was quite an advancement over man power and animal power.
The Sailing Ship originated in the Mediterranean, and quickly became an advanced technology – with a keel and curved beams in pairs. The basics for later industries quickly became apparent:
- A standardized design, with standard variations on that design. A buyer could have any of these made to order.
- A market for the lumber to build these ships. The Greeks Islands were originally all wooded, but their trees were soon cut down to make its warships.
- Shipyards, where these designs could be built. Venice had many of these, and they were part of its prosperity. These included the skilled craftsmen who knew how to make them.
- Banks to finance the trading expeditions that used these ships as part of a long overland trek eastward using Camels. This involved a legal profession to draw up contracts, and courts to enforce them. And of course solders to protect the precious cargo.
- Diplomacy. Many complicated arrangements between different peoples – such as the Islamic countries in the Mideast, then India, and in China. A certain amount of trust had to be developed over time.
The next big development was something no one could have predicted – the Reformation. Which quickly moved the centers of maritime power to the North – the Netherlands and England.
Spain and Portugal (Catholic countries) developed their own shipping and discovered the New World with it. But their ships could only sail downwind and were not well suited to Naval Warfare – as they discovered with the Spanish Armada. They had endless supplies of money (from their colonies in the New World) but they were usually in debt to English banks. The Industrial Revolution bypassed them (and Latin America) entirely.
In the North, the Sailing Ship quickly became a sleek wind machine, able to sail upwind – a feat many people still refuse to believe. Ships of all countries kept sailing further and further South along African coast – until there were able to sail around it. After that, the world was theirs!
International trading took off – completely dominated by the North and the Sailing Ship – which could routinely sail anywhere in the world – and back. The profits were enormous – because long overland journeys were no longer required!
This was greatly aided by a new development in financing – the Joint-Stock Company, where almost anyone could invest in these voyages and share the profits (or, quite often, the losses). Insurance companies quickly appeared to make this risk predictable. All enabled, as before, by the legal profession and the courts. And by diplomacy – often gun-boat diplomacy.
Colonialism became part of this profitability. Much to the satisfaction of the North. The Southerners were not consulted.
But a tipping point had been reached, and history was changed forever. The amount of economic activity became far larger than anything that had existed previously. And a new kind of man appeared to man the large number of ships in operation – mass man, the sailors who provided the manpower to run them. These were incredibly tough men (iron men in wooden ships). Who appeared, as if by magic, in large quantities, just when they were needed.
They, and their subculture, were crude and uneducated – little more than machines. But they were the wave of the future. Mass production (ships and their components were mass-produced) had produced mass man – turned out in vast quantities for all the jobs that appeared. Jobs, I must remind you had not existed before. But now they became indispensable – and completely changed what people of the future would be like.
Capitalism was born – which was very much a mixed blessing.
All this happened, let me remind you, before the next technological breakthrough – Steam Power.