Columbian Exchange
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Columbian Exchange


The Columbian Exchange
History has all kinds of twists and turns. How things end up sometimes is the luck of the draw. Economics has also had a huge impact on the path of history. This story has a big impact to this day. If you didn't know this, which I didn't, you might find this quite interesting.
One of the most significant events in the history of man started after Columbus found the new world in 1492. It's been called the Columbian Exchange. What it refers to is the widespread exchange of agricultural goods, slave labor, livestock and diseases between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. This resulted in a tremendous ecological and economical revolution. The name Columbian Exchange comes from Christopher Columbus.

We take these things for granted now, but this exchange of products, people and animals had a tremendous impact on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some examples of the impact are:

  • Before 1492 potatoes were not grown outside of South America. By the 1800's the potato was so important of a staple in Ireland that the a disease wiped out much of the potato crop resulting in widespread famine there. The parsnip was eaten before potatoes were introduced in Europe.
  • Tomatoes were native to America but became a trademark in Italy known for its tomato sauces.
  • Horses as we know of them were native to Europe but they had a tremendous affect on the lifestyles of the North American plains Indians allowing them to hunt bison on horseback.
  • Coffee from Africa and sugar cane from Asia became primary products for Latin American plantations
  • There were no oranges in Florida
  • Ecuador got bananas from tropical southeastern Asia.
  • Italy had never seen a zucchini
  • Hawaii had no pineapples
  • Coffee came from Kaffa region in Ethiopia
  • Africa did not have rubber trees
  • Texas didn't have cattle
  • Mexico had no burros
  • Onions came from ancient Egypt
  • Switzerland had not seen chocolate
  • Thailand had never seen a chile pepper
  • Dandelions were brought from Europe as a beneficial herb
  • Many communicable diseases had never been seen in the Americas

Almost all societies on the face of the Earth were affected by the Columbian exchange. 

So what would a list of such items look like?

Pre-Columbian distribution of organisms with close ties to humans
Type of organism Old World list (what they had) New World list (what they had)
Domesticated animals
Domesticated plants
Infectious diseases

By looking at the above list you can readily see the impact this exchange had. But behind those words are even more impacts. In 1738 a smallpox epidemic killed half of the Cherokee tribe; in 1759 nearly half of the Catawbas died, after the turn of the century it is estimated that 2/3 of the Omahas and likely half of the entire Indian population between New Mexico and the Missouri River; in 1837-38 almost every Mandan and maybe half of the high plains Indians died. All from a disease that had never been in this hemisphere. A disease that came with invaders from Europe. The impact of the American diseases on the old world were minimal. It is debatable if syphilis really came from the America's.

The animals that came to Europe did not have near the impact the European animals did on the new World. Think what an impact the horse and cow had to the America's.

The greatest contribution the New World gave to the Old World were in crops. Corn, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, chiles and manioc have become basic food for millions of people in Asia, Europe and Africa. The spread of wheat and rice to the New World could be said to have been responsible for the global population explosion of the last centuries.

Why did this exchange happen? People from the Old World coming here were use to a certain kind of environment where they came from. So they brought that environment with them the best they could on the ships. They brought crops and animals. With those imports also came weeds and insects.

An interesting side note: The Europeans brought black slaves to America from Africa. The reason they did so is diseases had decimated the native populations here reducing the labor forces available.

Credit for this information and the list from link to the page is here

I found this so interesting that I had to share it here. Plus provide links back for more information if you are even more curious.

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