In the 15th and 16th cent., with the sudden expansion of Portuguese and Spanish holdings, the so-called commercial revolution reached a high point. In N and central Europe, the earlier supremacy of the Hanseatic League, the Rhenish cities, and the cities of N France and Flanders was eclipsed by the rise of national states. Antwerp began its long career of glory when the Spanish were losing their hegemony, and the Dutch briefly triumphed in the race for world commerce in the 17th cent. The Dutch in turn lost to British-French rivalry, which by 1815 left Britain paramount. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th cents. considerably aided the development of commerce. The expansion of trade was further promoted by the rise, under the auspices of the national state, of the chartered company and by the modern corporation, which later displaced it.
World commerce was also aided materially by the invention of the astrolabe, the mariner's compass, and the sextant; by the development of iron and steel construction; by the application of steam to both land and water transport; and more recently by national road networks and the accompanying growth of the trucking industry. The development of communication devices such as the telephone, telegraph, cable, radio, and satellite data transmission systems and inventions such as refrigeration, the gasoline engine, the electric motor, the airplane, and the computer have also contributed to the growth of trade.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.