Advances in the 19th Century
Until the 19th century, ships were owned by the merchant or by the trading company; common-carrier service did not exist.
On January 5, 1818, the full-rigged American ship James Monroe, of the Black Ball Line, sailed from New York City for Liverpool, inaugurating common-carrier line service on a dependable schedule. A policy of sailing regularly and accepting cargo in less-than-shipload lots enabled the Black Ball Line to revolutionize shipping.
Two technological developments furthered progress toward present-day shipping practices: the use of steam propulsion and the use of iron in shipbuilding. In 1819 the American sailing ship Savannah crossed the Atlantic under steam propulsion for part of the voyage, pioneering the way for the British ship Sirius, which crossed the Atlantic entirely under steam in 1838. Iron was first used in the sailing vessel Ironsides, which was launched in Liverpool in 1838.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was of great economic importance to shipping. Coinciding with the perfection of the triple-expansion reciprocating engine, which was both dependable and economical in comparison with the machinery of the pioneer vessels, the completion of the canal made possible rapid service between western Europe and Asia. The first steam-propelled ship designed as an oceangoing tanker was the Glückauf, built in Britain in 1886. It had 3,020 deadweight tons (dwt; the weight of a ship's cargo, stores, fuel, passengers, and crew when the ship is fully loaded) and a speed of 11 knots.
The 20th Century
Among the technological advances at the turn of the century was the development by the British inventor Charles A. Parsons of the compound steam turbine, adapted to maritime use in 1897. In 1903 the Wandal, a steamer on the Volga River, was powered by the first diesel engine used for ship propulsion. The Danish vessel Selandia was commissioned as the first seagoing motor ship in 1912.
After World War I significant progress was made especially in the perfection of the turboelectric drive. During World War II, welding in ship construction supplanted the use of rivets.
The keel of the first nuclear-powered passenger-cargo ship, the Savannah, was laid in Camden, New Jersey, on May 22, 1958, and the ship was launched in 1960. In 1962 it was chartered to a private company for experimental commercial use, but it did not prove financially successful.