The Early History of Mechanical Engineering - Vol. 1

By Bryan Lawton | Go to book overview
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Transport defines the extent of a society's physical world. It defines the space that is occupied and the space from which economic sustenance is drawn. The faster and cheaper people and goods can be carried, the greater is the area of sustenance and the higher is the standard of living. The same considerations apply to individuals because the size of the area a person inhabits is closely associated with personal wealth. This need for space is upheld by the territorial instinct that we share with other animals. We defend territory and acquire more when the opportunity is present. It is one of the main causes of wars. When the land acquired by war reaches the size of an empire, such as that of Rome or China, it eventually breaks up into smaller units, partly because communications are too slow and the empire is too large to be run efficiently from a single centre of power. Thus, the Roman Empire split into two, which enabled it, at least in the east, to survive for another thousand years. Fast, inexpensive transport facilities are an essential element not only of a prosperous economy but also in the efficient administration of empires and other economic groups.

In addition to defining the area of economic activity of a producer, transport has also been important in the location of industry. Mining and quarrying must necessarily be located where suitable materials are found, but some industries need more than one raw material and if these are not found in the same area then one or more materials must be transported. Transport costs are then likely to be important and the location of the production site is a matter of some importance. Iron smelting for example needs both iron ore and a fuel supply. Often these occurred together, as in the Forest of Dean, but sometimes one or other of these materials had to be supplied from a distance. Leland in about 1540 notes that no woodland grows in Swaledale, but “the wood they burn for smelting their lead is brought from other parts of Richmondshire and from the


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The Early History of Mechanical Engineering - Vol. 1


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