Import and export
Throughout the 20th century, the port of Liverpool handled what was known as general cargo. This covered a vast range of goods. Imports included some foodstuffs, but also a great range of raw materials to serve the industrial regions of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands. These included cotton from the southern USA, Egypt or India for Lancashire`s mills. There was Australian wool to be sent over the Pennine Hills to Yorkshire. Vegetable oils such as palm oil would come from West Africa to be used in soap making on Merseyside (north west England). Raw sugar came from the Caribbean to be refined. Latex from Malaysia was destined for the rubber industry.
Exports reflected the goods made in the nearby industrial regions. There would be chemicals, paints, salt, lubricating oil. Consumer goods would include Scotch whisky, cotton clothing, electrical equipment and cars. From the iron and steel industry would come rails, pipes and sheets of corrugated or galvanised iron. There would be large manufactured items such as railway locomotives.
A dockside crane
To handle all these varied items safely and efficiently, the port needed dock workers with the skills to move any type of cargo. It also needed equipment to lift it on and off ships, and safe and dry places to store it.
Cranes were originally worked by manpower, but later used hydraulic power. To provide this, the port had a system of cylinders to pressurise water and strong pipes to distribute it to the cranes. Later, these were replaced by large cranes powered by electricity. For large items such as locomotives, ports would have a floating crane with a lifting capacity of several hundred tons. Its advantage was that it could be towed round the docks to work on any ship wherever it was berthed.