For two centuries, American whale oil lit the world — powering the start of the industrial revolution and laying the groundwork for a truly global economy. From its stunning rise as an economic force in the 18th century to its precipitous decline in the decades following the Civil War, the whaling industry mapped millions of miles of uncharted ocean, opened new seaways and markets, employed the world's most multi-cultural workforce and shrunk the globe by bringing once remote reaches of the Earth into contact as never before — all the while capturing the American imagination. As Americans now see fortunes rise and fall on the global energy and consumer markets, the rapid commoditization of whales and the sharp decline of the whaling industry serve as a stark reminder of the volatility of the global marketplace.
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