Cargo Ship Yantian Sea
Shipping and transport is a method of moving objects from a source to a specified location. Such objects can include tools, clothing, animals, foodstuffs, weapons, mail and other perishable and nonperishable items. The method or mode of transporting items has always been technology-based, beginning in prehistory when the only mode of travel was walking or running, until today with the advent of priority air carrier shipping services like FedEx. The examination of shipping throughout history is reflection on how far mankind has come in quickly getting his valuables from one place to another.

Human Powered

Before the wheel and domesticated animals, shipping items depended solely upon human energy and stamina. If tribes needed to move objects such as dwelling components, clothing, food or weapons, they had to resort to carrying and backpacking techniques. Sometimes crude sleds were employed to drag loads over long distances and difficult terrain. Trade depended solely upon persons manually transporting goods, limiting the weights and sizes of the load. It can be assumed that the first mail service consisted of transporting flat stones that contained written language from one village to another.

Animal Powered

With the domestication of steer, dogs, horses, mules, camels and other work-centric animals, the ease of moving larger shipments were realized. Pack animals were used to carry products in caravan style, oftentimes including the transport of the rider. Sleds, wheeled carts and wagons, pulled by multiple animals in teams, offered a dramatic increase in the product load and allowed much longer travel distances. Feed and water were the only requirements to keep these organic transport machines in motion.


Shipping be water includes transport via canals, rivers, lakes and over oceans. Shipping very large loads became popular with the use of the first canoes, barges and sailboats. Native American Indians and Eskimos transported goods via crude skin-covered kayaks and canoes The Egyptians moved heavy masonry works and other trade goods up and down the Nile river with sailing barges and ships, utilizing the prevailing winds and river current to propel themselves to destination. The first 19th century steamships used steam engines, paddle wheels and propellers to move thousands of tons of goods to destination. Although shipping routes depended upon the waterway location, this mode of shipment was found easier and more efficient than overland transport. Today, water shipment is handled by special tankers and freighters that make trans-ocean crossings.


The next innovation is shipping tons of goods came in the form of the steam-powered locomotives. It was found practical and inexpensive to move goods and cattle via trains which had multiple freight cars. Railway routes began to blossom in the 19th century, spanning gorges, rivers and high mountain passes which connected major cities and industrial areas. As with waterway transport, rail brought organization to shipping by implementing numerous routes and specific schedules that allowed goods to depart and arrive on time.


Shipping by road has become the most popular means of shipping goods, both locally and nationally. Today, the most common shipping vehicle is the big-rig truck which has a capacity up to 40,000 pounds. Yet just after the turn of the century, trucks were in production that had large stake and flat beds that were capable of moving huge loads. Roadway trucking has the convenience of transporting goods to just about any location that has a highway, street or even dirt road. Truck transport on the roadways is most often the first and last stage of most freight transport across the country.


Dirigibles (airships) might have been the first mode of air transport around the late 1800s, but were more travel oriented in concept. The first planes that carried cargo were built just after the turn of the 20th century. Although the load limits were restricted, larger prop planes were later built which had vast interiors for storage. Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose was a radical designed 8-prop cargo plane that was intended to carry troops and goods over vast distances. Today air transport is carried out by special cargo planes that are jet-powered and able to reach speeds in excess of 500 mph. Shipping by air is the fastest and safest mode of transportation but it is also the costliest because of high energy use. Helicopters, especially the heavy-lift Russian versions, are designed to carry and transport enormous loads.