Commercial shipbuilding in the 21st century is dominated by large suppliers, constructing series' of ships in highly efficient shipyards. The industry would be unrecognizable to shipbuilders from a century ago and this raises the question as to when the modern form developed. Much development has been incremental but there have also been seminal triggers, both technical and economic, that have led to major shifts in the nature of the industry. This paper traces these shifts from the building of SS Great Britain to the current day. The modern industry saw its beginnings in the United States in World War II (wwii), follows a build strategy that was developed in Japan (under U.S. guidance) and a pattern of shipyard design that originated in Europe in the early 1960s. The most significant influences have included developments in iron and steel manufacturing processes, the expansion of the British Empire in the second half of the 19th century, the Liberty Ship program in WWII, Japan's "great reverse" post-WWII, and the "Bretton Woods" conference that initiated the process of globalization in the second half of the 20th century. The greatest steps forward have arisen out of economic imperatives and been assisted by influence from other industry sectors. The most important influences were those from government contractors in the introduction of welding into shipbuilding in WWII and in the influence of the aircraft manufacturing industry in Japanese shipbuilding post-WWII. The greatest barriers to innovation have arisen from conservatism.
In an article in the New York Times of October 28,1921, Henry Ford coined his famous phrase: "History is bunk." He was paraphrasing an earlier article in the Crawfordsville Review of June 6, 1916, where he had said: "History is more or less bunk" and the three additional words make all the difference in understanding this famous quotation. What Henry Ford did not mean was that we cannot learn the lessons of history. What he did mean was that we cannot reliably predict the future by extrapolating the past and this leads to a very optimistic view of the power of innovation in industry. What innovations might be around the corner that will change everything? Henry Ford is also often quoted in support of this view as saying, relating to the period before his innovations that made the motor car an affordable mode of transport for the masses in the United States: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." In reality, Henry Ford is nowhere recorded as actually having said this, but it is a popular misquotation because it illustrates the principle perfectly (Vlaskovits 2011).