The Evolution of Shipbuilding and Where We Are Today


There are almost 11 billion tons of cargo transported across the seas every year by ships. That’s 30 million tons every day!

The shipping industry is a huge powerhouse in our modern economy, but how do boats handle such large quantities? The answer lies in shipbuilding, or how ships get made.

The long history of shipbuilding meanders through almost every water-adjacent culture in history to reach the current skills and techniques the industry uses. Read on to learn about the history and development of shipbuilding!

Way Back in Ancient Times

No one knows for sure when the first ships were built, but our first glimpse into recorded shipbuilding comes from Ancient Egypt in about 4000 BC.

The Egyptians would make boats out of papyrus reeds, which is a far cry from the heavy steel we use today. Papyrus reeds were common along the rivers in Egypt, which made them perfect for this culture.

The Egyptians also eventually learned to use wood. They still would use papyrus in between planks to make sure that the boat was water-tight.

However, a ship back then did not traverse the same long distances we see today.

Setting Sail Across Oceans

Austronesian peoples were the first to create boats that would venture deep into the heart of the sea around 3000 BC. These boats would traverse all over Southeast Asia—some scholars even believe they may have even reached the Americas.

To ensure their boats were water-tight, these peoples would use caulked with pastes made from various plants, similar to the Egyptians. For steering and navigation, the sailors would use an oar on one side rather than a central rudder.

Greek and Roman Influence

Between the seventh century BC and the first century BCE, triremes became popular. Greeks and Romans would use these fleets for military purposes.

These ships were very expensive to build, both in time and money spent. It could take 16 years to build one boat!

The Industrial Revolution

Iron ships occurred as a result of the mechanical inventions and breakthroughs happening in the early 19th century. Soon, steel replaced iron.

Around the same time, bridge cranes were invented to help carry the heavy and necessary loads that come from building ships made out of steel. These are still used in modern shipyards.

One ship you may know built during this time was the Titanic—a pertinent example of why careful shipbuilding and design are so important.

How Does Shipbuilding Happen Today?

Today, papyrus reeds and plants are no longer used, which allows ships to carry the heavy loads that support our day-to-day lives.

Shipbuilding in the modern-day consists of welded steel being built in specific sections that are then put into place with the help of machinery and welded together. Now, it only takes about three years to build a commercial vessel.

Shipbuilding is an amazing part of how our world runs. Make sure to check out other articles on this fascinating topic!


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