Development of the international ship supply business
The ship suppliers business did not start to develop as a separate industry until about 200 years ago, with the rise of international maritime transport. In the age of sailing vessels, which inevitably had to remain in port for months at a time, there was no need for a sector specialising in prompt supply to these vessels. Things only began to change when machine propulsion became widespread, with the advent of steamships, motor vessels and turbine driven ships, with shorter and shorter loading and unloading times, and with increasing vessel size.
The expansion of maritime trade in the 19th century made it necessary to improve logistics in port – it became essential to employ just one company, or at most a few companies, with a reputation for reliability, to procure and embark everything the ship required. That was the origin of the first ship suppliers. Today’s shipping operations would be inconceivable without the work of the ship suppliers.
The origins of the ship supply trade were in England, which were several decades ahead of the Continent in development of this sector. There are some ship supply companies in Great Britain that have a tradition going back two hundred years or more. The first companies of this kind in Germany were established from 1830 onwards. Most of these entrepreneurs were retired masters of vessels, who wanted to set up shop in a business which they knew first hand, since they were best placed to know just what vessels need. We should bear in mind the tremendous responsibility of ship suppliers at the time, especially in view of the time taken for voyages then. For example, it took a sailing ship an average of 180 days to complete the voyage from Hamburg to San Francisco, which meant it had to take on board all the food and equipment for 30-40 people for at least six months.