Supposing explorers from Europe either never sailed to the Americas, or were all killed off and never seen again, could the world resemble the way it is today?

A couple things that may have been affected:

  • Technology - while some concepts started in Europe and China, the United States had a key role in developing modern technology. Computers especially were developed extensively in the US.
  • Government - democracy in Europe did not really begin to take off until countries in the west began revolting in order to form democratic nations. It is possible that without these revolutions, monarchy would still be the most common form of government in Europe today.

These are just two examples, but I would be interested in finding out about more. Is it possible for these changes to have occurred without expanding to the western hemisphere?

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    $\begingroup$ In your setting we are still in 2014 ? Is it possible the Americas could have been colonized by another country? They haven't been colonized and the natives are as advanced as the rest of the world? They are still primitive? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Dec 18, 2014 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ "United States had a key role in developing modern technology" - well no, they don't have. Most of the things development 'in Us' are developed by immigrants. US is running on brain drainage, but their education system is quite poor. So without US, those all 'big brains' would simply live in other country. $\endgroup$
    – user2061
    Dec 18, 2014 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ @GrandmasterB: not again with the flat earth myth... after ancient Greeks the fact that the earth was spherical was a truth known to almost any educated man (and there were surprisingly accurate estimations of its radius). Every Columbus contemporary knew that earth was spherical, the point of discussion was its size and the position of Asian countries (both facts that Columbus got completely wrong). $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2014 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ tbh I think this question is just ignorant. The British civil war which put Parliament in charge above the King ended in 1651, over 100 years before American independence. $\endgroup$
    – JamesRyan
    Dec 18, 2014 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ With current technology, it's unthinkable the American continent would still be unexplored. We have satellites for crying out loud... $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Dec 18, 2014 at 13:00

6 Answers 6


It's an implausible scenario, but, given the premise...

I'm going to say that neither technological movement or government evolution would have been significantly affected by the Americas not being discovered and colonized, but there would have been effects.

Technology: There really wasn't anything about the Americas that spurred technological progress, except possibly military technologies. Most of it was building upon established European technology. (In fact, some of the progress was due to European nations deliberately obstructing exportation of technology, so the colonists had to come up with a way on their own.)

Government: Most of the philosophy was iterative from European philosophy. I have seen it argued that the Iriquois confederation MIGHT have influenced the constitution of the US, but, even if so, it was slight. The American independence success did encourage other democratic movements in Europe, like the French revolution, but the ideas were already there, and percolating, and England was already on its slow, steady progression towards the very democratic government with vestiges of monarchy that we see today. On this front, though, there are two important things to consider:

  • American colonization was an important 'safety valve' for European nations. A lot of people who would have otherwise caused trouble (Puritans in England, Hugonauts in France, later on Socialists in Germany) got punted across the pond. The history of Europe would have likely been a lot more bloody, and some of that colonization pressure could have been directed at Africa or Asia, resulting in those areas having more European culture. (Think of how much more 'European' South Africa is than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.)
  • Spain would have developed much differently. In addition to the aforementioned safety valve, a lot of resources (especially precious metals like gold and silver) were siphoned from Spanish Americas directly to Spain. This gave Spain enormous riches, but, for those economics geeks, also caused massive inflationary issues--many countries were on gold standards, and the Spanish import of gold on a massive scale messed with the price of gold.
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    $\begingroup$ Good catch with Spain. The Spanish gold supply actually had a pretty big effect on history because it allowed them to support much larger armies. Also potato, it has high yield for a non-cereal and grows well in soils and climates marginal for normal high yield cereals. Pretty big deal for northern europe. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2014 at 9:32

There is one event that might not have happened if America wasn't "discovered" or at least colonization didn't happen : Industrial revolution

Thanks to European colonialism, many European countries, especially Great Britain became extremely rich thanks to trade with and exploitation of their overseas colonies in both Americas, India and Asia. It all started with America, so if America wasn't colonized, it would mean Europe would be much poorer compared to Asian and Indian countries (especially China). This drastically shaped the world and made it massively Europe-centric (until at least WW1 and 2).

And it was possible for Industrial revolution to happen in Britain, because it was the richest country in the world at the time and they had lots of capital to invest into new technology, they could cheaply import raw materials from overseas colonies (cotton from India) and they could export finished goods back. This kickstarted industrial revolution. Without Europe and Britain not having those possibilities, the technology would probably not progress much from how it was pre-colonization and China would be world power instead of US or Europe. Or at least, Industrial revolution would happen much later and much slower.

  • $\begingroup$ True, specifically the money came from slave trade from africa to the americas, then slave produced goods to europe... do not remember what the africans got from this. Seriously, the effects of industrial scale slave trade on Africa were pretty disastrous, so at least Africans would be better off if the Americas had not been discovered. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2014 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ All based around sugar so the Carribean rather than mainland USA. Depends specifically what you take out of history. $\endgroup$
    – JamesRyan
    Dec 18, 2014 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ The beginnings of the industrial revolution were happening before America was discovered, and the pushes behind it were not raw materials from the colonies (of which India and others were more profitable than America for Britain, at least). The biggest push on the industrial revolution was the ability to support more non-food workers, and that was already growing by leaps and bounds. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2014 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamMiller Can you show me your sources? Textile manufacturing in Britain (earliest signs of industrialization) began around 1750s. Columbus discovered America in 1492. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Dec 18, 2014 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ I wasn't talking about the industrial revolution per se, but the other advancements that made it possible/inevitable. I don't have sources with me; I'll have to look for them later. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2014 at 14:52

What is "modern society"?

America rules the world these days, basicly since the Sowjetunion colapsed as antagonist but you there are already signs of decay. EU und China are getting more powerful and even Russia is still a factor. but thats not the point.

Let's do not focus to much on the situation of this exact time we are living in, but how it has come to what is now.

The colonial era has gained a giant boost due the exploration of America but this event hasn't started it. The technological improvments have. Ships where able to load more and more cargo, travel faster (further) and could be build cheaper and cheaper. Also there, finally, was a proof that earth is round. (It's a common myth that medival europeans thought it was flat, they did not. But they did not know for sure if it's round or not.)

The first intention of seaexploration was India. European countries got access to indian spices and also heard of an incredibly rich country named China. Trading with this nations was extreme expensive and there had been the powerful (enemy) arabs in between the europeans and their tradingpartner.

So seaexploration started just to lower the costs on the long run (so you might imgine how expensive these spices had been).

While exploration they found many locations they did not know about and everywhere they where technically overpowered and able to rule the people. (Africa, America, later India and China...) So this power, which gave them access to rich resources, is the reason they had that high motivation to explore further.

From this point it's very unlikely that they did not explore America. But even if, we must ask why europe lost this power.

Answer is: Europe was not an Empire but several rivaling countries. The rivalry has also lead to many wars, which often where fought in collonies.

This is a point where the Americans had implified a plot twist. As the settlers in America wanted to get autonom and no longer be ruled by the empire, the war begun which the British Empire lost(!) Never bevore something like this had happened. (The struggle was real ;-) )

But in the end the "rule the world" power of Europe where lost in the World War I. The leading countries (Great Britain, Netherlands, Spain and France) which forced the countries to take the focus off their colonies on europe itself.

After World War Two there where practically no more collonys (only a few). Europe still where "some kind of powerful" compared to Africa, South America and South Asia, but America and Russia have become the real forces.

As we assume that America doesn't exist and thus the Wars had endet different, we must assume that one partie of the Wars had completely rules Europe. In WW1 there surely had no one been the "real winner". The attrition warfares bleedet the nations dry and at any point they surely had done any kind of peaceagreement.

WW2 had surely not starden with such an end of WW1, but if, Nazi-germany had surely ruled europe. The technical advantages and motivation was way to high. Sowjetunion had not been able to hold the first time of the war that good without american material (Yes, the Sowjets got a lot of guns, tanks, artillerie,... from the US in the early years of war). Only the USA, or the american material in other nations armies, had been a real problem for Hitler due they've been master of aggressive tactics. Same where the german troops. Good engagers, bad defenders.

Everything after WWII is younger history wich I don't want to speculate about but I think with an unified Europe under the Hakenkreuz, not much good had been in our Wold now.


If we assume, as mentioned in other answers that things like the industrial revolution would still have progressed in more of less the same way, although perhaps a bit slower, we might make it to the start of the 20th century in more or less the same way. However once the first World War kicks off, we run into some serious trouble.

As much as we hate to admit it in Europe, the American support was a major influence in beating back the Germans (and then once more). The resources supplied by an entire continent beyond the reach of the Germans played major part in lasting out the war of attrition.

Nevertheless, the allied forces might have been able to bring Germany to its knees with a longer war. But what if Nazism (or something similar) would still have arisen? I'm no historian, but I don't think WW2 could have been won without a steady supply chain from the America's. England would have been starved in no time, which would possibly have stopped Russia from switching sides.

I'm sure the Nazis would have ruined things for themselves eventually, since they weren't actually that good at running a country, but from that point on the landscape would definitely have looked very different. From that point on there's any number of "what if the Nazis had won" scenarios to choose from.


If Columbus ships disappear without a trace, few years (latest few decades) someone else would be more successful. History would be slightly different if that next explorer was from other country, like Portugal or Netherland. But not that much different: world powers of the time would try to colonize new continent in exactly same way.


Contrary to the question, quite a lot of technological development went on in Europe too, although undoubtedly we would be missing a few things. The major changes I can think of:

  • Space exploration
    Much of space exploration was pioneered by NASA, so we'd be missing a fair chunk of space knowledge. I also doubt we'd have the ISS - the U.S. contributes around half of its annual maintenance cost.
  • Computer parts manufacture
    The majority of the computer's development went on in Britain (Google "Bletchley Park computing" or "Alan Turing" for some more detail). However, we'd be lost today if Silicon Valley suddenly got destroyed. If it never existed in the first place, all the parts manufacturing would have to go on elsewhere.
    I think we'd still have the Internet (as we think of it today), though maybe in a lesser state of development. The Internet itself was developed in the US, but our current definition of 'Internet' (i.e. the World Wide Web) was invented by a Brit, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
  • Medicine
    Medical treatments would be less advanced. Universities in the US have done lots of work towards new technologies for medical practitioners, so medical care would be less automated. However, we'd still have medicines (penicillin was invented in Scotland and other antibiotics developed in Europe).

I think we'd still have similar governments. Due to human nature, we'll always look for ways to have our own will, and a ruling monarchy or upper class denies this completely. The revolts and revolutions would still have happened, but again, probably in a different timescale without the big spark of the American success.

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    $\begingroup$ Space exploration was fed by the tension between USA and the Soviet Union. A similar conflict could lead to similar results, regardless of nationalities. Space can be reached from many places after all. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Dec 18, 2014 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Mast: The funny thing is that both the Russian and the US space program relied in large part on German technology and scientists. (The A-4 program, mostly.) ;-) $\endgroup$
    – DevSolar
    Dec 18, 2014 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ Jep. Werner von Braun was the most relevant pioneer in that field and with another ending of WWII, surely germany had taken that role in spaceexploration. $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Dec 18, 2014 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ The internet was developed in the US from Arpanet, with major contribution by Vint Cerf. You seem to have confused the internet with the World Wide Web, which was invented by Tim Berners Lee working in CERN. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2014 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @PeteKirkham In today's technology, WWW and 'internet' are completely interchangeable terms. If you'd care to find an article on the differences at the time of development, I'll happily include it. $\endgroup$
    – ArtOfCode
    Dec 19, 2014 at 22:57

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