Speed Under Sail During the Early Industrial Revolution

31 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2018 Last revised: 27 Jan 2018

See all articles by Morgan Kelly

Morgan Kelly

University College Dublin (UCD) - Department of Economics

Cormac O'Grada

University College Dublin (UCD)

Date Written: January 2018

Abstract

We measure technological progress in oceanic shipping directly by using a large database of daily log entries from British, Dutch, and Spanish ships to estimate daily sailing speed in different wind conditions from 1750 to 1850. Against the consensus among economic (but not maritime) historians that the technology of sailing ships was fairly static during this time, we find that average sailing speeds of British East India Company and navy ships in moderate to strong winds rose considerably after 1770s. Driving this progress was the introduction of coppering in the 1780s but subsequent rises are probably due to a continuous evolution of sails and rigging, and improved hulls that allowed a greater area of sail to be set safely in a given wind. By contrast, speeds of Dutch and Spanish vessels were stagnant. Using separate data on crossing times of Atlantic mail packets, we find steady progress from the 1750s, followed by marked improvements when American packets appeared in the 1820s.

JEL Classification: N0

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Morgan and O'Grada, Cormac, Speed Under Sail During the Early Industrial Revolution (January 2018). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP12576, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3098172

Morgan Kelly (Contact Author)

University College Dublin (UCD) - Department of Economics ( email )

Belfield
Dublin 4, Dublin 4
Ireland
+353 1 706 8611 (Phone)
+353 1 283 0068 (Fax)

Cormac O'Grada

University College Dublin (UCD) ( email )

Dublin 4, 4
Ireland

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