The Economic History Review

Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the Age of Sail

Volume 74 Issue 1
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Pages: 87-114Authors: Dan Bogart, Oliver Dunn, Eduard J. Alvarez‐Palau, Leigh Shaw‐Taylor
Published online: August 4, 2020DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13004

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There is a debate about whether coastal shipping experienced substantial productivity growth prior to the advent of steam power. To study changes over the long eighteenth century, this article uses thousands of coastal journey times culled from Board of Trade crew lists between 1835 and 1844 and coastal port books for the mid‐to‐late 1600s, along with a newly digitized coastal network. Comparisons between matched samples show that journey speeds, defined as miles sailed per day, were significantly higher in the crew lists compared to the port books, and that voyage cycle times, defined as days between starting two identical voyages, were substantially lower. The study also shows that voyage times in the east coast coal trade were substantially lower around 1840 than around 1700, but the difference was much smaller when peace years are compared. These new data imply that total factor productivity growth in the east coast coal trade was significant, especially if one accounts for gains from peace after 1815. The findings contribute to the larger literature studying the rate and sources of productivity growth during the industrial revolution.