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Partial Info About Ballast


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Hard to present this without speculating but I'll try to keep the speculating at a minimum.

Here are some stray things I've learned about shipping of old.

As you know, it was the lifeline of many nations. There appears to have been much law dedicated to definitions and profitability of all aspects of it, including ballast. Hard for me to sort through the old discussions because they get very technical very fast. Ins and outs of freights and duties and the best ways to get things from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and vice versa, not to mention international commerce issues. Naturally the legislators, manufacturers, unions, lobbyists and reporters knew the background so they didn't have to repeat the basics for my benefit. lol

But some of what I think I have learned:

Trade deficits had a different meaning in the olden days than they have now.

There were times when the U.S. was exporting more in volume than it imported. A ship based in the U.S. might sail full to Europe or to some remote island but it might not have anything scheduled for pickup to bring back to the U.S. If a U.S. manufacturer had to pay for shipping both ways to get their product one way, then that was not cool.

Also after the manufacturer's goods were offloaded, the ship could be virtually empty and it couldn't sail that way. There would have to be something weighty loaded for the return voyage. If it could be something which the ship owner might turn into a little profit at the end of the voyage, that would be in both his interest and the interest of the manufacturer who paid for the first leg of the journey, and the interest of all the consumers having to absorb the cost of the manufacturer's goods.

Basically, it was in the interest of most people to have full, profitable ships.

But when one law was made to "fix" things, someone found a way to make it profitable and someone else wanted part of the pie, (edit: or someone found it oppressive), and more laws were made. and on and on.

Right now I'm seeing lots of references to non-commercial ballast. Almost as if once upon a time, ballast might have been able to be "recycled" at the end of a trip, with some sort of profit to the shipper. But I don't have confirmation of that. What I do have is a few references to such things as pig iron and salt as useful ballast items with some potential commercial value.

The sort of stuff warehouses might have on hand, and might export if there was room, yet wouldn't worry about if there wasn't room. No urgency.

The marble chips of the type which were turned into play marbles were also useful as ballast. Sometimes that was mentioned as a non-commercial type of ballast, the type which could simply be dumped from the ship in order to make room for new cargo.

Another neat factoid is that as more and more cable was laid enabling communication between different ports, the issue of empty ships became less of a problem. People at intermediate stops could be notified that there was empty space they could use if wanted. etc.

So the main marble-related speculation is: did toy marbles fall into that category? The category of dually functional ballast (or other word but similar concept), valuable both for its weight and for its continuing usability at the other end of the trip.

I am posting this here and now because I have another article to post soon, one which mentions ballast but isn't mostly about ballast. I'll be posting in a different thread hoping the ballast issue doesn't make it sink. (sorry that was a bad one.lol) I do care about the ballast issue, so here is where I'm discussing it. And I welcome anything else anyone knows or finds out about this sort of cheap freight concept as it might or might not have existed before 1950 or so. I don't know if/when I will be able to find out more about it.


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