The ability to transport goods and people efficiently makes modern societies possible. A brief look at the early United States illustrates this principle. In the first half of the 1800s, Americans built a strong transportation network. Improving technology made new engineering possible. Soon feats of engineering transformed the North American continent. New roads, canals, and railways greatly expanded economic opportunities.

During the colonial and revolutionary periods, most of the nonindigenous population of North America lived near the Atlantic coast. America in the 1700s depended mainly on water transportation to link small farms with transatlantic trade. Farmers living near the Hudson River or other river systems could float their crops downstream to the port cities. Artisans transported their handmade products the same way. Travel itself was slow and difficult. Post roads between the colonies had been built by the mid-1700s. These roads, though, were unsuitable for commercial transport. Transporting farm crops and other goods was costly and slow.

Goods Hit the Road

In 1794, a new road opened between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was the country's first toll road, built by a group of businessmen. Soon other groups of merchants were having more toll roads paved. By the early 1820s, thousands of kilometers of graded routes crisscrossed the region. These toll roads provided a major boost to regional commerce. The federal government paid for one major highway during this era: the Cumberland Road. Began in 1811, it extended westward from Cumberland, Maryland. By 1818, it had crossed the Appalachian Mountains and reached Wheeling, Virginia. It permitted overland travel between the Potomac and Ohio rivers.

Commercial Ports Pop up


Canals gave the waterway transportation system still greater reach. The largest and most important was the Erie Canal. It was approved by New York State lawmakers in 1817. It extended from Buffalo to Albany. It was 12.1 meters (40 feet) wide on the top and 1.2 meters (four feet) deep. This engineering achievement created a human-made waterway connecting the Great Lakes to the Hudson River. The Hudson, in turn, flows into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City. The Erie Canal greatly reduced both the travel time and the cost of shipping products such as grain and lumber from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. It led to an immediate and dramatic increase in the shipment of such goods. By the 1840s, New York City had become the nation's leading commercial port. This helped make the city the country's financial and trade capital. 
Other state governments hoped to copy New York's success. They soon paid for their own canal projects. By 1840, the United States had more than 4,828 kilometers (3,000 miles) of canals. Both Ohio and Indiana built their own canal systems. They connected the Ohio River to Lake Erie. The Illinois & Michigan Canal, completed in 1848, established a water link between the Mississippi River Valley and the Great Lakes. It helped the city of Chicago, Illinois, become the great transport hub of the Midwest.

Trains Travel Year-round


The steam-powered locomotive had the most far-reaching impact. Trains were a heavy-duty, fast, year-round transport solution. In time, they became the preferred choice for commercial shipping. The earliest U.S. railroads covered only short distances. In 1827, a group of Baltimore, Maryland, businessmen formed a corporation to build the first major railway. It ran between their city and the Ohio River. Many more private railway enterprises followed in the decades before the Civil War (1861–1865). Between 1840 and 1860, the nation saw a ten-fold increase in the amount of track laid. The first transcontinental line was established in 1869. Eventually, railways lowered the cost of transporting many kinds of goods across great distances.

These advances in transport helped drive settlement in the western regions of North America. They were also essential to the nation's industrialization. The resulting growth in productivity was astonishing. Busy transport links increased the growth of cities. The transportation system helped to build an industrial economy on a national scale.

 

Effects of Transportation on the Economy

The steam-powered locomotive revolutionized commercial transportation by providing a durable, faster, cheaper way to move goods. The Governor Stanford was the first train on the Central Pacific, which became the first transcontinental railroad line in 1869 when it was joined with the Union Pacific.

arduous
Adjective

difficult or requiring a lot of work.

artisan
Noun

skilled craftsman.

graded
Verb

leveled or smoothed, as in a road

hub
Noun

center.

infrastructure
Noun

structures and facilities necessary for the functioning of a society, such as roads.

interoperable
Adjective

systems that are able to operate together

maritime
Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

portage
Verb

to carry boats or other watercraft across dry land, between bodies of water.

replicate
Verb

to duplicate or reproduce.

transatlantic
Adjective

across the Atlantic Ocean.

transcontinental
Adjective

extending across an entire continent.

turnpike
Noun

main road that collects a toll, or fee, to pass through it

viable
Adjective

capable of growing and sustaining itself.