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Mapped: European Colonial Shipping Lanes (1700‒1850)



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Colonial shipping lanes

European Colonial Shipping Lanes (1700‒1850)

Every year, thousands of ships ferry passengers and transport goods across the world’s oceans and seas.

200 years ago, the ships navigating these waters looked very different. Explorers and traders sailed from coast to coast to expand colonial empires, find personal riches, or both.

Before modern technology simplified bookkeeping, many ships kept detailed logbooks to navigate, tracking the winds, waves, and any remarkable weather. Recently, these handwritten logbooks were fully digitized into the CLIWOC database as part of a UN-funded project by the University of Madrid.

In this graphic, Adam Symington uses this database to visualize the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch shipping routes between 1700 and 1850.

Colonial Shipping Lanes

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch empires dominated global trade through their colonial shipping lanes.

All four nations sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with some frequency over that timeframe, but these fleets were also very active in the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well.

The table below reflects the record of days spent by digitized logbooks from each nation.

CountryN. AtlanticS. AtlanticIndian OceanPacific All Oceans
🇪🇸 Spain28,63511,8126201,70342,770
🇬🇧 U.K.40,87317,73223,1061,48183,192
🇳🇱 Netherlands51,97723,45731,7591,481108,674
🇫🇷 France3,9301862058965,217

Does this mean that the Netherlands had the widest colonial reach at the time? Not at all, as researchers noted that there were thousands of logbooks from each country that weren’t able to be digitized, and thousands more that were lost to time. The days simply reflect the amount of data that was available to examine from each country.

But they can still give us an accurate look at critical shipping routes between European countries, their trade partners, and their colonies and territories.

Let’s now take a closer look at the colonial powers and their preferred routes.

The British

The British shipping map shows a steady presence across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. They utilized many of Europe’s ports for ease of trade, with strong pre-independence connections to the U.S., Canada, and India.

One of the most frequented shipping routes on the map seen is a triangular trade route that enabled the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This route facilitated the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Americas, raw materials such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton from the American colonies to Europe, and arms, textiles, and wine from Europe to the colonies.

The Spanish

During this period, Spanish maritime trade with its colonies was an essential economic component of the Kingdom of Spain (as with other colonial empires).

We can see the largest concentration of Spanish ships around Central and South America leading up to the Spanish American wars of independence, as those colonies were especially important suppliers of raw materials such as gold, silver, sugar, tobacco, and cotton. There are some lanes visible to Pacific colonies like the Philippines.

The French

Of the four empires, France’s maritime logbooks were the most sparse. The records that were digitized show frequent travel and trade across the North Atlantic Ocean to Canada and the Caribbean.

The French empire at the time included colonies in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and West Africa. Their trade routes were used to transport goods like sugar, coffee, rum, and spices, while also relying on the slave trade to maintain plantation economies. The French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was one of the world’s wealthiest colonies in the late 18th century.

The Dutch

Dutch shipping routes from the time had the most detail and breadth of any country, reflective of the Dutch East India Trading Company’s position as the world’s dominant company and trade force.

These include massive traffic to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Cape Colony (now South Africa), and the Guianas in South America.

Interestingly, researchers from Leiden University found that the Dutch empire was a “string of pearls” consisting mostly of strategic trading hubs stretched along the edges of the continents and focused on maritime power.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Charted: The Hottest and Coldest Temperatures in U.S. History

The highest temperature was registered in Death Valley, California, in 1913.



This timeline shows the hottest and coldest temperatures in U.S. history.

Charted: The Hottest and Coldest Temperatures in U.S. History

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The United States has experienced severe heat waves this summer, breaking daily temperature records and causing dangerous consequences like wildfires nationwide.

This graphic shows the hottest and coldest temperatures ever recorded in the United States. Data was sourced from the National Centers for Environmental Information.

California and Alaska Hold Records for Extreme Temperatures

Extreme heat is a deadly phenomenon, responsible for approximately 1,220 fatalities each year in the United States.

The hottest temperature ever recorded in the country was an astonishing 134.4°F (56.7°C) in Death Valley, California, on July 10, 1913. This stands as the highest ambient air temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. However, this reading, along with several others from that period, is disputed by some modern experts.

Death Valley has a subtropical, hot desert climate characterized by long, extremely hot summers, short, warm winters, and minimal rainfall. Its extreme dryness is due to its location in the rain shadow of four major mountain ranges.

StateFahrenheit (°F)Celsius (°C)DateLocation
California13456.7July 10, 1913Greenland Ranch
Arizona12853.329 June 1994Lake Havasu City
Nevada12551.7June 29, 1994Laughlin
New Mexico12250June 27, 1994Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Kansas12149.4July 24, 1936Alton
Kansas12149.4July 18, 1936Fredonia
North Dakota12149.4July 06, 1936Steele
Arkansas12048.9August 10, 1936Ozark
Michigan-51-46.1February 9, 1934Vanderbilt
Idaho-60-51.1January 18, 1943Island Park Dam
Minnesota-60-51.1February 2, 1996Tower
North Dakota-60-51.1February 15, 1936Parshall
Colorado-61-51.7February 1, 1985Maybell
Wyoming-66-54.4February 09, 1933Riverside Ranger Stn.
Montana-70-56.7January 20, 1954Rogers Pass
Alaska-80-62.2January 23, 1971Prospect Creek Camp

Conversely, the coldest temperature ever recorded was -80°F (-62.2°C) at Prospect Creek Camp, Alaska, on January 23, 1971. Prospect Creek is a very small settlement approximately 180 miles (290 km) north of Fairbanks. In the past, it was home to numerous mining expeditions and served as a camp for the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

Currently, and perhaps understandably, no permanent residents live in this area.

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