If I said the word “airship” to you, what would come to mind? Be honest, two things: either the Hindenburg (as in “Oh, the humanity,”) or Goodyear’s blimp over a sporting event. Not exactly confidence inspiring, huh?
With the rise of the airplane, the idea of airships became archaic — like black and white television, leaded gas, or sound producing devices not in stereo. But appearances can be deceiving. These ships were used by the military deep into the 1950s.
In fact, the US Navy’s ship Snow Bird made an unbelievable endurance flight in 1957. It traveled almost ninety-five-hundred miles in eleven days. But I left something out. This was a continuous flight, and the ship never stopped for fuel or landed.
Stunningly, the three-hundred-forty-three foot ship propelled itself on only one of its two engines during the flight to save fuel. But the Snow Bird isn’t unique.
While the Hindenburg was an immortal disaster, it did more than burst into flames. It also flew from Germany to Tokyo in 1929. The success pushed England to attempt to build a fleet of similar airships to link their empire in the late 1920s and 30s.
Obviously, airplanes proved more convenient, but for passenger travel. Trade went an older route.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ninety percent of all trade goes by the sea. But what happens when ports go on strike, stall, or shut down?
Well, you get massive supply chain disruptions like we see today. According to CNBC:
“Ocean carriers continue to cite congestion at U.S. and Canadian ports as the reason for canceling sailings in September, a cut in vessel service that has been flagged in previous CNBC reporting, and the latest CNBC Supply Chain Heat Map shows the congestion is not subsiding.”
Now, let’s take a step back. What if you didn’t require ports to send goods from point A to B? Frees up bottlenecks, doesn’t it?
Still, it’s a bit hard to wrap your head around. We’ve been trading by sea for thousands of years, so why do anything different?
Trade Routes And Empires
According to historian Will Durant in his book Lessons From History, sea trade has always been a magnifier of empires. For instance, Greeks didn’t go to war with Troy over a captured queen. It was about trade.
Once their ships could pass through the acquired territory, they came into conflict with the Persians. Durant explains one of the first moves of both Darius and Xerxes was to take the sea lanes of the Dardanelles. It led to trade in the Black Sea.
After the Greeks defeated the Persians, they ruled the Mediterranean and all associated trade routes, until the Romans, then the Italians who used the funds to pay for the Renaissance.
But a new trade route collapsed this power.
The Atlantic nations found the Americas in the 1400s, which created its own Renaissance for Spain, Portugal, the Dutch, and England. But a new route will crush this and all traditional sea lanes— air.
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