Historical Shipping Methods Time Line
March 5, 2014
Shipping methods have changed dramatically over the centuries, moving from simple walking to ox-pulled carts to flights into space and over the Internet. Improving methods of transport have allowed humans to move farther and farther from the centers of civilization as access to goods became more reliable. In fact, the durability of the Roman empire can largely be attributed to its attention to transport. Roman roads, some of which are still in use today, allowed for armies and carted goods to travel to the farthest reaches of its holdings, providing for distribution not only of goods, but also of information and culture. This enabled a continuing connection with home base.
The Transport Time Line
The improvement of shipping methods throughout history follow a similar pattern involving increasing speed, distance, and amount carried. The following time line highlights the developments in transport as man marched on: Human — In the beginning, man was limited to transporting only the goods he could carry only as far as he could walk. This was sufficient, though, for closely knit family groups that would only travel by foot as a pack. Animal — Man then harnessed the power of various species of working animals to pull sleds or haul carts and wagons. These animals included the ox, mule, and horse. Stagecoaches and wagon trains opened the Canadian and American west to settlement, allowing groups to travel farther and to still receive mail and essential goods on a relatively dependable basis, even though that delivery could take weeks. The short-lived Pony Express in America improved the time schedule for the transport of a small number of mailed items in each shipment. That, however, was only for those things that absolutely, positively had to get there. Rail — The advent of steam powered engines allowed for the development of an intricate web of train tracks that crisscrossed the continent and provided for seamless travel over great distances, once all the rail companies agreed to the proper width, or gauge, of the tracks. Among the shipping methods available at the time of its inception, rail was by far the fastest, with trains reaching theretofore unheard of speeds of 25 to 50 mph. It also permitted companies and individuals to ship huge amounts of cargo, including liquids via tanker car. Now, high speed rail carries passengers and goods at speeds of 250 mph and more. The rail system also opened up travel and transport within cities with subways and elevated trains allowing a central population to expand to outer reaches. Truck — Steam was soon replaced by the internal combustion engine, which was used to power ever larger vehicles. The freedom of using roads rather than rail meant that relatively large shipments of cargo could be hauled over great distances to regions not covered by rail service. Also, once a fast-moving train arrived at its destination, the goods it carried no longer had to be transferred to horse-drawn carts, which would again slow transport to a crawl for the final distance. Plane — The coming of manned flight inevitably led to the flying of man’s goods across country, across the oceans, and around the world. Because planes are only limited by landing strips and fuel, they can carry large loads of mail and other products at much faster speeds than land transport can manage. As aeronautical engineering improves, larger planes are created to carry more people and larger loads of cargo. Planes now can carry huge construction components for offshore oil rigs and even other aircraft and spacecraft. Space — Speaking of space, the advent of the space shuttle basically meant we now had the ability to truck equipment and satellites into space, rather than blasting them off on their own rocket. Internet — Email and other Internet connections between people represent the newest of shipping methods, allowing individuals to send photos, documents, and other information. Most shipping methods, however, still need a personal touch to make sure the delivery arrives at the right location and are given to the right recipient. Distance has been reduced as an issue, but weight and bulk as well as speed are still considerations in choosing a shipping method.