1800-1930 Industrial revolution

The influence of the French regime, under Napoleon's leadership, made shipping on the Scheldt possible again at the end of the eighteenth century. Napoleon also decided to built new shipyards and docks, including the small dock (Bonaparte dock) and the big dock (Willem dock). He regarded Antwerp as ‘a pistol pointed at the heart of England'.

In 1863, the Scheldt becomes toll-free which has a very beneficial effect on commercial activity. In 1869, more than one million tonnes of cargo are handled for the first time and this number will regularly double over the next decades. In this period, the Red Star Line, a shipping company that transported about two million people to America, also started its activities. Thanks to the industrial revolution and the use of new techniques, the long-haul trade to Africa and Asia also starts, and trade with the German hinterland continues to boom. Antwerp emerges as a European hub and leading international trading companies open offices here.

Antwerp is almost bursting at the seams as a trading city and towards the end of the nineteenth century decides to straighten the quays of the Scheldt. As the 'vlieten' or fleets are filled in, new docks are built in the north of the city. Growth to the north continues until the construction of the third sea lock, the Kruisschans lock, now better known as the Van Cauwelaert lock. In 1929, hard-working dockworkers handled no less than 26 million tonnes of (general) cargo. Antwerp was already laying down the foundation for what is still one its biggest strengths: ‘every cargo finds a ship and every ship a cargo’. Antwerp is now a world renowned distribution centre, known for its speed and efficiency.