Ships have been around for centuries. They date far back into the ancient times to exactly pinpoint a single person as the inventor of a ship. Mostly, the Egyptians are credited with the first wooden oared ships dating back to 1500 BC. Followed by the Romans centuries later, who built great galleys of cedar and pine. The Chinese and Japanese have ships dating back to the 1100B.C.
The Norsemen who were from Scandinavia, also known as Vikings, were considered great sailors and built ships that sailed the Atlantic. They were even thought to have reached America before Christopher Columbus did. Their ships were of stout built with high sides and a central hold called the Long ships. These ships were used by them to transport their livestock and families to Iceland, Greenland and the far America. They had about 30 oars on each side and were used to raid countries.
Between 12th and 15th century the "Chinese junks" were built during the Song dynasty when sea trade seemed to have gained importance. Due to the high incidence of typhoons in this region, the Chinese Junks had strong hulls and bulk heads lent strength to the hull. They also provided with water tight compartments which was particularly important during leaks in mid seas. One of the most important innovation of the Song dynasty is the "Sternpost Rudder" which could be lowered in deep waters and it acted as both a rudder and a keel. Before this most of the ships elsewhere in the world used a long oar projected from the stern to steer the ships.
Marco Polo describes the Chinese junks with multiple masts which when folded went in like the venetian blinds. By th e15th century the Chinese were building their ships as long as 450 ft in length almost 6 times the size of a Portugese caravel. By the 15th century the simple single masts ships which pretty much didn't change much from the original design of the Phoenician ships started seeing multiple masts ships. The "Grace a Dieu " was built during the time of Henry VIII. It was a 1000ton ship and 138 meters long. Phineas Pett built the "Sovereign of the Seas" ship for King Charles I which was about 1637 tons. He built about 10 master shipwrights between 1550 and 1660. Phineas went on to become the first president for the Shipwright's company in 1612. They introduced the first Frigate.
By 19th century British supremacy at building ships was challenged by the American ships. The tea clippers were built during this time. These ships had 3 or more masts and were narrow with a limited freight carrying capacity. Tea clippers were mostly used by the British to carry spices, opium etc back and forth from UK to the east colonies. the era of tea clippers is also called the "Golden Era of Sailing".
In the 20th century, the steam engine, and the turbine engine revolutionized ship building. The first steam ship was "Great Britain" and was built by Marc Isambard Brunel. He was a great engineer who designed bridges tunnels and railways ahead of their time. The 20th century also saw the beginning of passenger liners, cruise luxury ships. Later on it was the nuclear powered ships but these were used for military purposes mostly.