INTRODUCTION

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flag"America, the Beautiful"
-by Katharine Lee Bates

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

When the United States declared its independence in 1776, the new nation was comprised of 13 states situated along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This map shows the political boundaries at the time.

Click on this map to see how the nation had changed. The new land had been ceded by Britain at the end of the Revolutionary War as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Now look at this map, which shows the United States and its territories as they looked a century later when Katharine Bates wrote her poem "America, the Beautiful." The United States had more than quadrupled its land mass. As Bates describes, the nation stretched from 'sea to shining sea.' The key to development of the nation would be a good transportation system, one that would allow people and goods to move relatively easily and cheaply.

Advancements in transportation dramatically changed how people and goods moved across the United States. Labeled by historians as the 'Transportation Revolution,' these improvements increased the nation's productivity and thus the quantity of goods the nation produced. The changes in transportation can also be credited with helping transform a collection of local and regional markets into a unified national market.

TASK

You will explore how the changes in transportation helped transform the United States and its economy during the 19th century.

PROCESS

Prior to 1800, people in the United States were relatively self-sufficient. Trade that occurred was overwhelmingly local. THE REASON: Transportation was very poor. There were no motorized means to move people or cargo. Transport technology was limited to harnessing animals for land transport and using wind for water transport. Waterways were often the only routes for getting goods to and from market.

On land, walking was the primary means of transportation. A person could walk about 3 miles per hour.

Horses travel faster (between 5 and 10 miles per hour) than people on foot, but they were not as comwharfmon as you might think. Horses were expensive to feed and required special care. They were owned primarily by wealthy people and businesspersons. These people often used carts and wagons pulled by horses and oxen were used to get things from one place to another. Oxen were much slower than horses, but they were stronger and could haul heavier loads. Oxen were also easier to deal with than horses.

Roads in the new nation were few and far between. Those that did exist were rough and dusty in good weather. When it rained, they were muddy. Wooden planks or logs were sometimes used in an effort to make them passable but imagine how bumpy the ride would be on a road firmed up with logs!

Travel by water was the preferred method of getting people and goods from place to place. Because of this, many settlers established their homes and farms along the Atlantic Ocean and next to rivers. Sailing ships harnessing wind power were used to move along the coastline, while smaller canoes, rafts, and boats dependent on people-power traveled inland. Not surprisingly, all 10 of the nation's largest cities in 1800 were harbor oriented.

Imagine you are a farmer who lived near Pittsburgh in 1810 and you wanted to get your crop to market in New York City. Land routes were so poor that you would probably choose to ship your freight by flatboat or keelboat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. A ship would then move your crop through the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, and finally up the Atlantic Coast to New York City. The trip was long and difficult.

What about travel to the continent's Pacific Coast? In 1810, John Jacob Astor (the world's richest man at the time) decided to set up a fur trade business in what we know today as Oregon. Astor sent a supply ship around the cape of South America to the mouth of the Columbia River while another group traveled overland to the same location. Traveling overland from Missouri to Oregon took nearly two years! The trip was so difficult that several of the men died, while others deserted and some went insane. The sea route was faster (it took only six and a half months), but it still was a miserable choice. The ship captain was so nasty that, eight sailors drowned trying to get off the ship when it reached land.

It was often easier to send products to Europe than to another part of the United States. As people moved farther west, they needed new ways to make travel easier, faster and less costly. The solutions to the transportation problem involved three elements: invention, innovation and infrastructure.

1. Invention is the creation of a new object or process. One of the technological inventions that most significantly contributed to the Transportation Revolution was the steam engine.

2. Innovations change how people use preexisting ideas and products. For example, steam engines were adapted as a new power source for preexisting transport technologies, boats and railroads.

3. Infrastructure is the set of interconnected elements that support the use of inventions and innovations. Examples of transportation infrastructure are roads, bridges, tunnels, canals, rail lines and ports.

THE SOLUTIONS

Click on the image to learn more about each different solution to the transportation problem.

roads

 

Roads

Canals

canals

steamboat

 

Steam Boats

Railroads

railroad

bridge

 

Bridges and Tunnels


Step Back in Time

Take a virtual time trip back to the 19th century and watch as these transportation changes occurred. See how many inventions, innovations and improvements in infrastructure you can identify.

Transportation Infrastructure, 1800-1900

Transportation Technology, 1800-1900

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT

Lower Transaction Costs

This chart offers a glimpse at how the cost of moving goods changed between 1815 and 1860.

Costs to Transport One Ton
(Cents per Mile)

Land

1815

Mode of Transportation

1860

30 ¢

Road

15¢ or more

  Railroad

2¢ or more

Water

1/3¢ or more

River

  • River Raft downstream
  • Boat upstream
  • Steam boat
 
 

1/3¢ or more

 
  Canal

1¢ or more

  Great Lakes

1/10¢

1¢ or less

Ocean

1/2¢ or less

Source: George Rogers Taylor, The Transportation Revolution (New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1962) Appendix A, Table 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use the chart above to calculate how many tons could be shipped for a mile in 1860 with one penny.

 

 

The decline in the transaction costs made it possible for producers to sell more goods at lower prices. The supply curve for goods shifted right.

supply

A National Marketplace

Prior to the transportation revolution, people depended on goods from their regional market. Transportation advancements increased the speed of moving goods and reduced what producers had to pay to get their goods to market. As a result, producers could sell goods at lower prices and still profit. They could also undersell competitors in other regions, expanding their markets.

Geographic regions of the U.S. began to specialize. Specialization occurs when an economic unit (in this case a region) produces a narrower range of goods and services than it consumes. Regions specialize in the production of the goods and services that they are best fitted to produce given their particular productive resources.

Click here to learn more about how different regions specialized.

CONCLUSION

Step back in time for a few more minutes for an overview of how transportation changed between 1800 and 1900.

Transportation History 1800-1900

The transportation revolution (particularly the development of railroads) was vital to U.S. economic expansion in the 19th century. The technological inventions and innovations combined with improved infrastructure made it possible to move people and goods relatively easily, quickly and cheaply. Farmers and ranchers on the western frontier were able to transport grain and livestock to distant markets. In turn, western consumers were able to get an affordable supply of goods from eastern and foreign markets.

The economic impact of the lower transportation costs is multi-layered. Structurally, the U.S. economy was transformed from a collection of relatively local markets to a unified national market that spread across the continent. Regional specialization occurred, yielding dramatic increases in productivity. The transportation revolution also increased access to the resources needed to build homes and expand businesses throughout the growing nation. The overall result was economic development and economic growth providing new jobs and a higher level of living.

ASSESSMENT ACTIVITY

Click here to complete an interactive activity.

EXTENSION ACTIVITY

  1. Government policies can have both positive and negative effects. Encouraging transcontinental railroad construction was an effort to unify and strengthen the nation, to accelerate the populating of the West by homesteaders and to increase taxable wealth. On the other hand, it contributed to the decline of the buffalo and Native Americans. Analyze the negative impact of the railroad expansion west. These web sites are a good place to start your research.
  1. Read one of these classic books which provides insight into travel during the 19th century:
  • Life on the Mississippi authored by Mark Twain describes much of the operation of steam boats.
  • Around the World in Eighty Days written by Jules Verne offers an imaginary travel log involving diverse modes of transport available during the period.
  1. Read the background information on the building of the Panama Canal and visit these web sites:
  • This map shows how dramatically the Panama Canal reduced the shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast of the U.S.
  • By selecting "Transit" and "Operations" after clicking on this link , you can view how the canal locks operate.

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Part 2

Part 3