Seagoing vessels large enough to be called ships were used in ancient times by the Egyptians, Cretans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, and Chinese. Ancient ships were propelled by oars or by sails or by both. They were of different types for different functions. Heavy, slow ships with round bottoms were used to transport grain, while slim-keeled ships such as the trireme were used for warfare (see galley). In the Middle Ages Viking ships, propelled by both oars and sails, carried Leif Eriksson to America; their structure is well known from such evidences as the Gokstad ship (unearthed in 1880), which is 80 ft (24.4 m) long, 16 ft 6 in. (5 m) wide, and 6 ft 10 in. (2.1 m) deep.
The introduction of the mariner's compass, the sternpost rudder, and the lateen sail made possible the transoceanic voyages of the Portuguese who rounded Africa and of Columbus and other explorers of the New World, giving new impetus to the building and navigation of ships. Many sturdy and refined types of wooden sailing vessels up to three hundred feet in length were developed. Men-of-war included the ship of the line, the frigate, and the corvette. Differing especially in such details as number and position of masts, with sails either square-rigged or fore-and-aft, ships were differentiated into such types as brig, clipper, and schooner. Building wooden ships became an important industry, especially in Britain and the United States.
The success of Fulton's
Modern freight ships are equipped with powerful machines for handling cargo; and, although jet transportation led to the demise of the great ocean liners, cruise ships continue to be built, providing the luxuries of the finest hotels. The pivotal vessels of modern warfare are the aircraft carrier and the submarine; other warships important in recent times include the battleship, cruiser, and destroyer.
See H. B. Mason,
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