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STRIDES IN TRANSPORTATION

In the early years after the Revolution, you could get out and walk if you didn't like the roads. Or maybe you could swim; early roads turned to giant mud puddles when it rained. Horses and wagons got stuck up to the middle, and drivers would have to crawl through mud to get food to feed the stuck animals while they waited for help. Once in a while, a carriage would just sink out of sight. But highways, canals, and railroads soon came along, allowing farm products to get to big-city markets and urban inventions to get to people everywhere. By the 1850s, stagecoaches and the Pony Express crossed the country. Clipper ships sailed the oceans faster than steamships could. The world was getting more and more connected.

Traveling the long and winding road

Most roads at the time were dirt trails or logs placed side by side (resulting in very bumpy rides). Even city streets were mostly unpaved. During a particularly wet and muddy time in San Francisco, a citizen erected a sign that warned his city street was "not passable, not even jackass-able." The first break in transportation came with the privately owned Lancaster Turnpike (1795), 60 miles of hard-surface road heading west from Philadelphia. In 1811, the federal government began to build the Cumberland (or National) Road from Maryland. By 1852, the road stretched across the old Northwest territory to Illinois and was the beginning of many a wagon train.

Creating canals

Robert Fulton's pioneering idea of the steamboat (1807), first launched on New York's Hudson River (see Chapter 10) proved even more valuable on the great Mississippi. As early as 1820, 60 steamboats regularly traveled on the Mississippi; by the time of the Civil War, the big river had the regular service of 1,000 boats. This type of transportation led to settlement; people could get their crops to market, and the local stores could get manufactured goods to make life a little easier.

With the completion of the Erie Canal (1825), Americans started to make the rivers come to them. Hooking up to the Hudson River at Albany, the Erie Canal went all the way to the Great Lakes. What used to cost a dollar to ship now cost a nickel. Rocky New England farms couldn't compete with the lush produce of New York and Pennsylvania floating into town on canal boats. New England farmers either moved west to the land along the canal path or worked in growing industries — the first sign of how better transportation could hurt as well as help local producers.

Having made their own rivers with the canals, the states began to get over the need for a water path. The first railroad (1828) chugged along three years after the Erie Canal was finished. By 1850, the northern United States was more interconnected by rails than it was by canals. The cotton-growing South started to build late; by the Civil War, the South had just a skeleton of railroads, whereas the North had a spider web. For more about railroads, see Chapter 13.

 
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