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Dutch Shipbuilding in the Golden Age

Richard W. Unger explores how technical superiority, the discovery of the advantages of specialisation in design, and the extensive exploitation of that discovery gave the Dutch domination of the European shipbuilding industry by the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The shipbuilding industry was one of the cornerstones of the economic prosperity of the golden century. By 1600 Dutch shipbuilders dominated the European market, selling their products to buyers from Riga in the Baltic to Venice in the Adriatic. The success of the industry was based on its 1nw costs and on the technical superiority of its product. Dutch shipbuilders used more efficient building methods and produced ships of better design than their European rivals. In the fifteenth century, however, Dutch shipwrights had been far behind them. At that time German builders produced a modified hulk which was the most effective bulk carrier in northern Europe. These hulks brought grain from the Baltic to the Low Countries and carried salt back. The full-rigged ship that was the vehicle for European expansion had to be imported into the Netherlands from southern Europe. It carried a combination of square and lateen sails; its hull was of Mediterranean construction, strength coming from the internal frame and not from the external planking.

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