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11

Disposable Ships

Before the Industrial Revolution, British shipbuilders depended on wood imported from Baltic nations, which was expensive. Meanwhile, Britain had a colony across the Atlantic that had almost unlimited timber. The problem was that American wood had to be shipped a relatively far distance, which raised its price. The solution would seem to be to establish a ship building industry in America, but that didn't happen, and the American Revolution eventually made the concept moot. Britain tried to regulate timber imports with various tariffs, complicated by several wars.  

In the midst of this frenzied activity, two Glasgow shipbuilders, Charles and John Wood, in search for quick profit, devised a technique to import large quantities of timber. Their plan involved building a huge vessel, many times larger than the largest vessel in operation, which was to be packed to capacity with timer and sailed across the Atlantic. On arrival, the huge cargo was to be unloaded and the vessel itself dismantled and the timbers sold. That way the importers could reap big profit, first from the sale of the large cargo, and second, by evading the duty on timber of the vessel itself.

In 1824, Charles Wood left for Quebec to supervise the construction of the first disposable ship, Columbus. In size, she was immense—300 feet long, 50 feet wide and 22 feet tall. She weighted an astounding 3,690 tons, more than ten times the tonnage of the average vessel operating in the timber trade. The ship was built as cheaply as possible. The hull was made from thick pieces of undressed, squared timber which was not caulked at the seams so that she could be taken apart easily without damaging the timber. The bottom was wider than the deck, and the vessel looked ungainly and crude. In the words of a Times correspondent, “the Columbus was an immense mass of timber knocked together for the purpose of commerce, without any regard to beauty and little attention to the principle of naval architecture.”

Okay, so a shipbuilder built a ship badly in Quebec in order to ship wood to Britain to make good ships. Gotcha. Surprisingly, the Columbus made it to Glasgow, which proved such a scheme could work. However, subsequent events spelled doom for the era of disposable ships. Read the rest of the story at Amusing Planet. -via Damn Interesting


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