Radical drop in cost of shipping cotton when steamboats arrived on the scene

We are all amazed at the radical drop in cost of computing over the last 20 or 40 years. I have a number of posts on point and have more planned.

Watching new technology severely drop costs isn’t anything new. Here is just one more data point from the early 1800s for illustration.

I’m accumulating these ideas and hope to weave them together in a larger story some day.

Here’s a comment on the impact of steamboats on Mississippi river commerce from Professor Allen Guelzo in Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, page 108.

Prior to the 1820s, it cost as much as $5 to move 100 pounds of cotton downriver from Louisville. With the coming of the steamboats, the freight rates fell in 1830 to only $ 2 per 100 pounds, and in 1840 to only 25¢.

A recap of shipping 100 pounds of baled, bulky cotton from Louisville to New Orleans:

  • $5.00 – before 1820
  • $2.00 – about 1830
  • $0.25 – about 1840

That would be a drop of about 60% in the decade of the 1820s and a drop of about 87% in the next decade. Cumulative drop over around 20 years was about 95%.

Computer costs in the last 30 year aren’t the only place we’ve seen that kind of price revolution.

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