Transportation In the 19th Century


During the first half of the 19th century, improvements in
transportation developed rather quickly. Roads, steamboats,
canals, and railroads all had a positive effect on the
American economy. They also provided for a more diverse
United States by allowing more products to be sold in new
areas of the country and by opening new markets. Copied
from ideas begun in England and France, American roads were
being built everywhere. In an attempt to make money,
private investors financed many turnpikes, expecting to
profit from the tolls collected. Although they did not make
as much money as expected, these roads made it possible for
cheaper (not cheap) domestic transportation of goods. It
still cost more to transport a ton of freight a few miles
over land than it did to send it across the Atlantic Ocean.
But because of turnpikes, for the first time, goods were
able to make it over the formidable Appalachian mountains.
The steamboat was the first economical means of inland
transport. It was faster and cheaper then the rafts used
before them. Additionally, the steamboats made it possible
to travel back up the Mississippi, allowing farmers and
lumbermen to come down by raft, and travel home in the
luxurious comfort of a steamboat after selling their goods.
This also made the northwest less self-dependent because it
was now able to purchase southern goods. While steamboats
sparked the economy on the western frontier, canals became
increasingly popular on the east coast. Although expensive
($25,000 per mile), and difficult to build, canals were an
important source for those farmers and merchants who needed
a cheap method of inland transportation. The water allowed
horses, once only able to pull a ton of materials, to now
pull over a hundred tons with the same amount of work.
These canals were not only economical for exporters, but
also for the state. Tolls alone collected from the Erie
Canal had, by 1825, already paid for the entire project
($7,000,000), and now was making a substantial amount of
profit. Even though it had not totally expanded yet, the
cheapest, most economical method of transportation was the
railroad. Speed, durability, and safety all contributed to
the success of it. State legislatures and the national
government all provided aid to the railroad companies by
decreased the tax on rail iron. During this time period,
manufacturing also boomed. New ideas and inventions made it
faster to produce products. However, it is because of these
new modes of transportation that this was ever able to
occur. The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney, would never
have been able to develop fully if the transportation
system did not make it easy to obtain cotton from the
south. With these new technological breakthroughs, American
economic growth was significantly increased. By allowing
cheaper importation and exportation of goods, manufacturers
were able to produce more of these products. Also, it
opened new markets to different places. In the northwest,
where coffee was an expensive luxury (costing almost
seventeen cents per pound), it was now a common item. The
steamboat reduced the price by over thirteen cents. Also,
our new transportation system helped other regions work
together. And aside from material items, our country
benefited economically from tourism. Any tourist to the New
York area would not miss "The Great Western Canal." So
although manufacturing did have a significant role in
developing the American economy, it is because of
transportation that manufacturing could have ever improved. 

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