Hamburg would be nothing without its harbour. The shipping business has been very influential on the development of the city, and still is the most important activity in town. And it's still booming - in 2006, Hamburg's harbour had 134.900 tonnes of cargo turnover, more than double the amount of 1991. The switch that was made to container shipping in recent decades has proved essential, as now 97% of all cargo passing through Hamburg is in containers, compared to 68% in 1990. Hamburg had only 200 residents when the harbour was first mentioned indocuments in the 9th century. The town got market rights in 937, marking the start of Hamburg's economic progress. The port is considered to have started in 1189, when Emperor Frederick Barbarossa's charter officially granted the town market rights and customs-free travel along the Elbe to the sea. Hamburg joined the medieval trade association of the Hanseatic League in 1321, and became an important link between cities on the Baltic coast and those along the North Sea. Trading expanded to include Scandinavia, Bruges, London and Amsterdam. At that time, trade ships were guarded from pirates, (like the infamous Klaus Störtebecker) by convoy fleets supplied by
The League proved very successful and Hamburg quickly grew to 16000 residents in 1450. Trade patterns shifted as the Baltic trade became less important, and the discovery of the Americas lead to new products and trading routes. The 18th century saw the start of trade with America. Hamburg's trading fleet went from 150 ships in 1788 to 280 in 1799, and steamships were introduced from 1816, greatly increasing the ships' reliability and speed.