The Evolution of Barge Moving Systems

We work around them every day. Almost no matter what port you are in, you see them roll on by every time you look up. They are vitally important to our work and economies across the globe. Barge moving systems keep domestic and international trade humming along. 

Have you ever stopped to wonder about the history of these humble titans of industry? Do you know how long we have relied on barges and their moving systems? Let’s take a moment to cover their history and how they have evolved. 

British Beginnings

While there are proto-barges that date back to ancient Egypt, the earliest sea vessel that is comparable to our modern barges was introduced in Britain in the 1300s. These flat-bottomed merchant barges used the only moving system available to them at the time: sails. Using a single sail, these ships would work their way up and down the shipping routes as international trade began to spread across Europe. 

Barges would operate in relatively the same manner until the industrial revolution. As industry exploded, a series of canals were constructed throughout the country. This allowed for an increase in shipping, bringing a greater need for barges along with it.

These barges began to do away with the sails and instead rely on horses walking alongside the canal to move them along with a crew of lightermen to keep the vessel from running ashore. By the 19th century, some barges were being towed by steam tugboats. 

Standardization in the Modern Era

International trade predates barges quite a bit, but when coupled with the industrial revolution, the need to quickly move materials and goods grew exponentially. This led some nations — including France — to standardize their canal systems. In doing so, they were able to standardize the dimensions of their barges along with the methods used to propel them through the waterways. 

While steam tugboats were an expensive method to push at the turn of the century — many barges still relied on sails because of this — World War I would usher in a very significant shift in how barges were moved.

The technological advances spurred on by the war positioned the internal combustion engine as the mechanism that would drive the industry forward. This innovation would kill off the use of sails as a means to move barges. This economized the deck space on the barge, allowing for a slight increase in capacity while allowing space for a boom to assist in loading and unloading cargo.

Barges As You Know Them Today

Shortly after World War II, barges were outfitted with powerful engines while still allowing for towing via tugboat when the engines were off. Barges have now become the preferred means of transporting bulk cargo, allowing for the easy transport of many of our everyday items, keeping prices low in the process.

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