A clipper was a very fast sailing ship of the 19th century. Often small, but with a large relative sail area they were used all over the world, primarily on the trade routes between western European countries and their colonies in the east.

The often quoted derivation of the word, that the vessels "clipped" time off a voyage, is probably incorrect. The term clipper was originally applied to a fast horse and most likely derives from the British slang term clip, meaning speed, as in "going at a good clip".

The small, fast ships were ideally suited to low-volume, high-profit goods, such as spices, and most commonly, tea.

The term seems to have begun as a slang term denoting any fast ship; Cutler reports that the first newspaper appearance was in 1835, but that by then the term was apparently familiar. Clippers came to be recognized as ships built for speed rather than cargo space; while traditional merchant ships were accustomed to average speeds of under 5 knots, clippers aimed at 9 knots or better.

Decline in the use of clippers was a result of the steamship. Although clippers could be much faster than the early steamships, clippers were ultimately dependent on the vagaries of the wind, while steamers could reliably keep to a schedule. The final blow came in the form of the Suez Canal, opened in 1869, which provided a huge shortcut for steamships between Europe and Asia, but which was difficult for sailing ships to use.

Although many clipper ships were built during the middle of the 1800s, the Cutty Sark is arguably the only survivor. Other ships of the era of similar type are not as well preserved, such as the City of Adelaide or S.V. Carrick[1].

Table of contents
1 Notable Clippers
2 See also
3 Reference
4 The Age of Flight
5 Clipper programming language
6 Cryptography

Notable Clippers

See also


  • Carl C. Cutler, Greyhounds of the Sea (1930, 3rd ed. Naval Institute Press 1984)

The Age of Flight

In the twentieth century, the term Clipper was applied to the flying boats that opened new global air routes, including vast stretches of the Pacific, to passenger service. Aircraft such as the Consolidated Aircraft Commodore and Boeing Model 314 became iconic symbols of the era of flight, and the name Pan Am Clipper came to stand for the romantic allure of air travel to exotic destinations.

Clipper programming language

Clipper was also the name of the commercial compiler for programs written for dBase III database system which provided only an interpreter.


For the cryptographic microcircuit promoted by the U.S. government in the early 1990s, see Clipper chip.