Mode of Travel and Transport

Figure 1.--Before the industrial revolution, waterborn transport was the primary way of moving goods. Caravan routes moved goods over long distsances, but only high-value luxury goods. This was because building and maintaining roads was very expensive. And because warter transport is inherently the most efficent methoid of moving goods. This was a case in ancient times and is still the case today. Only a few socities even attempted to build a road network of any size (Persia and most notably Rome). Thus maritime and riverine transport was the primary method of moving goods. Canals were essentially artificial rivers. Canals are ancient, but the only major ancient transport canal system was the Grand Canal in China (beginning 3rd century BC). Europeans began building canals (12th century). The French began building important canals (17th century). Britain built the first integrated system of waterborn transport (18th century). As a result as the Industrual Revolution began, Europe had a major network of canals. America also began building canals, the most important being the Erie Canal (1830s). All of this was overtaken by the railroads as the Industrial Revolution progressed. The canals did not disappear. They are still there, although since Wotld War II no longer a major transport mechanism. Here we see a canal, possibly in Germany about 1950.

Early man walked or ran for short distanes. This limited interactions and movement as well as trade. The domestication of beasts of burden gradually changed this. The transport of goods over long distances became possible. caravan trains crossed the trackless plains and deserts of Central Asia. The costs were, however, were enormous which limited commerce. Roads were a rarity and the marvel of civilizations like Persia and Rome. For the most part, the efficent transport of goods had to be conducted by water. This is still true today. But this long distance warer trabsport required advances in technolohy. Basic boats or river barges were developed, but long distance ocean transport required important advances in technology. Considrable distances can be achieved by hugging coastlines, but the lack of true ocean tranport kep many people isolated until the modern era. Canals were built by ancient people both for irrigation and tarnsport. The technology fot ocean transport finally was achieved (15th century). Efficent new methods of transport were developed utilizing steam engines, both the rail road and the steamboat (19th century). Finally the automobile and airplan appeared at about the same time, primrily because both used efficent engines to power them was the primary technological problem that had to be solved.


Early man walked or ran for short status. Actually an errect posture and efficent walking is an attribute of mankind. No other porivate developed efficent walking and running caoabilities. Not only did walking greatly improve t mobility, but it freed the hands for tasks like carrying loads and making tools. Walking is a slow, but effective mode of tranport. Archeologists now believe that the human speecies spread around the planet by walking long before beasts of burden and eventually the horse were domesticated. Walking is not, however, and effective method for transporting goods. Man can only carry small loads when walking and minimal loads when running.

Beasts of Burden and Caravans

As horses and other large animals were domesticated, transport of goods over long distances became possible. The first caravans were donkey caavans. The donkey was the first somesticated beast of burden. The donkey is, however, a small animal which limited the the loads which could be transported. And donkeys required food and water, limiting movement--especially across desert areas. Mountains also created barriers. The deserts were finally breeched with the domestication of the cammel. Caravan trains crossed the trackless plains and deserts of Central Asia. The costs were enormous. The caravan track accross Central Asia was called the Silk Road because it brought silk and other valuable Chinese products to Europe. Romans and subsequent Europeans coveted silk, but for centuries Chinese emperors retained the secret of silk production as a state secret. While commerce was conducted through caravans this was a extremely expensive way of conducting commerce. And pasage through political jurisdictions also meant added costs. Thus the cost of goods trnsported over the silk Road were astronomical. The importance of this transport mode should not be discounted as inefficent as uit was. The lack of beasts of burden and geograophic disadvabntages was a factior in the failure of Amer-Induian sicities to devlop like Asia abnd Europe. Only the rich, the very rich, could afford such goods. Arab and Ottoman domination of the wesern terminus of the silk road created a desire among Europeans to establish direct trade routes to the East. Chinese silks and porceline as wll as the spices were the principal empetus for the European voyages of discovery in the 15th century. All of this not change materially until the 19th century when steampower began to significantly reduce the cost of long term transport, both land (railroads) and maritime (steamships). It took siome time for railroads to be built, but by the turn-of the 20h century, both Europe and North American had fine railway systems. Beast of burdens continued to be used in areas without railroads and for the proverbial final mile, meaning delivery from railheads to the end user. The Wells Fargo waggon was a operfect example of this. The internal combustion engine powering cars and trucks finally changed this. The change began first in America before Word War, but was much slower in Europe. Even in industrialized Germany, horsepower was still an important part of the transport system at the time of World War II. The Autobahn that Germany so famously built (1930s) was a marvel of egineering, but lacked one thing--cars and trucks using it.


Rivers were the craddles of civilization as a result of agriculture. They have also played an important role in trade and commerce. Once civiizations developed in the great river valleys, the surplusses which developed funamentally reordered trade from a minor activity to a major activity. Civilization created demands for metals and other products which were not found locally. The problen was that there was no easy way of transporting goods long distances. This was because there was no riverine connctions. Land transport was slow and extrodinarily expensive. This was just basic physics. There is minimal friction associated with riverine/maritime transport and high friction with land transport. And there are high costs associated with overcoming friction even with he invention of the wheel. Only luxury goods and high-value material like metals could be transported overland. Local riverine commerce was important as it was so much more efficent than land transport. There were no riverine connections between Mesopotamia, Egypt, Harrapan (Indus River), and China. There was maritime commerce which gradually increased with technological developments. Rivers are sometimes thought of as barriers--such as the German 'Watch on the Rhine'. But in fact, rivers provide connections. Rivers contine to provide important trade routes, but this significantly varied among continents and countries. Here by far the most important was China which became known as the Middle Kingdom because it developed between two rivers, the Yangste and Yellow Rivers. Russian history was signifuicantly influenced by the north-south flow of most of the rivers which were not important for trade--with one exception--the Volga. This along with riverine connections to the Baltic created a major trade route to the Black Sea and Byzantium and played a central role in the developmnt of the Russian nation. Rivers were also vital in European commrerce. Rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Thames, and other rivers played key roles in trade and the devlopment of Euroopean nations. Rivers were less important in Africa becuse no great civilzations devloped and they did not provide connections with the great civilization. The Nile was an exception, but for Egypt trade with the Meditrranean world was always nore importsnt than with Africa. North and South Amrica are very different. There was no imprtant north-south flowing river. The principal South American river is the Amazon flowed eastward and not great civilizaion developed. And no river made nort-south connections or was of any great importance in trade and commrce. North America was very different. The Missisippi flowed southward providing connection with nuch of the conrinent. The tributary Ohio as especially important. The North Anerican river systems were thus of enormous importance in commrce and trade, especially before the railroads.

Oar and Sail Boats

For the most part, the transport of goods had to be conducted by boat or river barge until the mid-19th century. Boats were faster and less expensive. This made rivers a major factor in commerce and communication, making possession of rivers of great strategic importance. No where was this more obvious than North America. New Orleans because it sat at the mouth of the Mississippi, which drained half of North America, was crucial in determining who would dominate the continent. Farmers west of the Aplachaens had no way to market their crops other than to flot them down the Mississpi.

Covered Waggons and Stage Coaches

Covered wagons waggons and stage coaches were important in the 18th and early 19th century before the coming of the railrioad in both Europe and North America. They were drawn by horses, mules, and oxen. Where speed was importanht as with stage ciaches, horses were used. They were important in the settling if the American West. Especially renowned was the Conestoga waggon. The Conestoga wagon was a heavy, covered wagon that was used extensively during the late-18th eighteenth century and early-19th century, in the eastern United States and Canada. It was substantial enough to transport loads up to 6 tons. It was designed to help keep contents from shifting and in crossing rivers and streams and was often cauked for river crossings. The Conestogas were less common in the settlement of the West beyond the Mississippi. Here smaller ordinary farm wagons fitted with canvas covers were used. A Conestoga wagon was too heavy for use crossing the prairies. The Eastern United States had a well develoed rail system by the time of the Civil War (1861-65). A rail connection with Califiornia finally criossing the continent did not take place until after the War (1867) and it then took some time to expand the system to the towns and develoinhg cities beyond the Mississippi. Until this time we see stage coaches and civered waggons.


Canals were built by ancient people both for irrigation and tarnsport. The most important canal system was built in China, beginninin ancient tines (3rd century BC). As European economies developed, the existing rivers proved inadequate to the needs of commerce. Canals were built in England, France, and elsewhere in Europe. The canals played a major role in the early phase of the industrial revolution in Europe. Extensive canal construction began in England during the mid-18th century. The Duke Bridgewater at age 22 began the construction of canals when he decided to connect his coalmines with cotton mills in Manchester 6 miles distant. The canal eventually extended 46 miles. The cost was enormous and the Duke had to sell his estates and borrow momey. He engaged a millwright, James Brindley, to construct his canal. Brindley had no formal education, but was inventive. He reportedly modeled his aqueducts in cheese. His designs set the standard for canals in the English midlands. The Duke's canal accomodated wide river barges. Brindley worked on many other canals, designinging them more narrow to sav money in construction. Narrow canal barges wer bilt which required little water in relation to carrying capacity. Bridgewater finally opened his canal in 1761, making him a fortune and helping to inspire canal building projects throughout the Midlands. Joseph Wedgewood and other 18th century industrialists were impressed. The economic advantages were starteling. Coal delivered by land had cost 65 pence a ton, delivered by canal it only coist 35 pence. Wedgewood proceeded to organize a group of potters to finance a canal to connect their factories with Liverpool wearhouses. Wedgewood and other English potters had a large domestic market, but faced severe difficulties in shipping raw marials to their factories and the finished product to markets. [Hornik, pp. 53-54.] An extensive canal system was never built in America, but some canals were built in the early 19th century. The Eire Canal in particular played a major role in the economy of the northeast and the opening of the American West.

Steam Power

Stteam power was known to the ancients. It was, however, not until the Industrial Revolution that practical uses were developed. Englishmam Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine (1712) Newcomen steam engine which was used to pump water out of coal mines. It was Scottsman James Watt who made major improvements wgich created the steam engine that would play sych an important role in the Idustrial Revolution (1770s). Since the dawn of civilization water transport was conducted by muscle power using oars along with the natural flow of rivers and subsequently wind power using sails. This was especially important in the development of civilization because of the power if trade in transmitting ideas and technology. And before modern roads were developed water transport was the only effective way of moving goods any distance. Even when long distance trade routes developed, moving goods over land was much more expensive than by sea. This is why the European maritime outreach and sea connrctions with the East (16th century) had such a powerful impact on world history and economics. All water trasport for millennia was dome by mussle power or wind power. There were technological improvements over time, but the two power sources were unchanged. This all changed with the invention of the steam engine. American engineer and inventor Robert Fulton built the first steam boat whch he sailed up the Seine River in France (1803). It managed to makr 4 miles per hour (mph) against the current. Fulton went on to build the first commercially succeesful steamboat, the Clermont whoch began operating on the Hudson River between New York City and Albany (1807). Steamboats appeared before railroads because the inintial investments were much lower.


All water trasport for millennia was done by muscle power or wind power. There were technological improvements over time, but the two power sources were unchanged. This all changed with the invention of the steam engine. American engineer and inventor Robert Fulton built the first steam boat whch he sailed up the Seine River in France (1803). It managed to makr 4 miles per hour (mph) against the current. Fulton went on to build the first commercially succeesful steamboat, the Clermont whoch began operating on the Hudson River between New York City and Albany (1807). Steamboats appeared before railroads because the inintial investments were much lower. Fulton's ship could make the 150-mile journey in only 30 hours -- a stunning advamvement. Steamboats rapidly improved and became a amainstay in riverine waters, especially the all imprtant Mississippi River. Until the steamboat, rafters carrying goods down the Mississipi had to walk home. (A young Abraham Lincoln was one.) The Mississipi and its tributaries were one way highways. The steamboat made them two way highways, a huge contributor to the economic development of the United States. It would be some time, however, before steamboats ventured out into longer routes and the trecherous waters of the North Atlantic, especilaay during the winter. Winter conditions and freezing spray made in hazzorous for men to have to work the rugging and icing could actual make sailboats top heavy leading to capsizing in the brutal wind and wave conditions. This was a constant problem since the 17th century when ship traffic between Europe and North America began to increase. Steamboats solved this problem, but to cross the 3,000 mile North Atantic routes, so much coal was needed that there was no room for passangers and freight--the whole purpose of the ship. [Fowler] The tecnology was there, the steamship Savanah crossed th North Atantic in only 30 days (1819), but was a commercial disaster because it carries so few passangrs and so little freight. Gradually larger ships with more efficent engines began to appear.


Efficent new methods of transport were developed utilizing steam engines, both the rail road and the steamboat. Railways appeared in the early-19th century and were a major factor in the economy by the mid-19th century. The new railroads which rapidly spread across Europe and America helped spread the new iundustrial economy. Railways pre-dated the steam engine. By the mid-18th century the plate or rail track were being used to move coal from the pithead to the colliery or furnace, especially in England. The coal was powered by ponies or people. After the turn of the 19th century, flat were being used outside London, Sheffield, and Munich. Soon they spread to other large cities as well. Europe's rapidly expanding industrial economy created a need for improved and more efficient transport. Richard Trevithick first employed an engine to pull trucks--at a Cornish mine. A railway was opened in the 1830s from Liverpool to Manchester. It was here that George Stephenson employed "Rocket" to pull a train of cars reaching 14 miles per hour. The histoy of railroads varied from country to country. England was the first country to be heavily covered by railroads in part because England led Europe in the industrial revolution. England experienced a railroad building boom in the 1840s. Railroads faced many difficulties, including vested interests. Canal operators, turnpike trusts, and horse breeders opposed the railroad, but the effiency of moving goods over rails made the railroads impossible to resist. Falling prices for iron and improvements in machine tools were other factors. England by the 185os possessed an extensive network of railways. Trains were transporting both people and goods 30-50 miles per hour--speeds unimagineable even a decade earlier. It was freight that became the minstay of the railroads. The British Government in the 1850s intervened to regulate the railroads, creating monopolies to prevent caotic bulding, but limiting prices. Even so, by World War I (1914-18) British railroads had developed problems--overcapitalization, rising costs, and state regulation. British railroad construction was soon followed by construction on the continenbt, in many cases financed by Britsh investors. British equipment and technicians also played an important role. France in the 1840s built a railway system combining private and public enterprise. German railway construction was complicated by the many different states. Army commanders by the 1860s saw the military potential of railways. Railways played an important role in the America Civil War (1861-65) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Railways were especially impotant in linking large countries like America, Canada, and Russia.


The bicycle is a wheeled vehicle having a tandem arrangement of the wheels with a saddle for the rider, a steering handle, and gear for propulsion by the feet. The modern bicycle is the result of a long history of technological development. Bikes were originally developed for adults. Bikes at first were quite expensive, too expensive for children. Versions for children appeared by the late-19th century, but because of the cost, these were only for children from wealthy families. After World War I the bicycle became more afordable and in some countries such as America became a standard play item. Boys in particular liked to be photographed with their bikes. Thus many photographs exist of boys in casual clothes with their bikes. Early photographs, however, are staged shots, some times with the boys wearing their sunday best suits.

Motorized Vehicles

Before the turn of the 20th century the automobile appeared. No mechanical device affected American culture more than the automobile. Much of the growth in the American economy after the turn of the 20th century was centered on the new automobile. The American economy by the 1920s was to a large extent centered on the automobile. It was the industry centered on the automobile and trucks that peovided the back bone for the arsenal of democracy that helped defeat the NAZIs and Japanese militarists in World War I. The autmobile also have a profound cultural imapct on America. City planning began to take place when the automobile in mind. Sometimes more attention was given go the automobile than people. The autmobile made possible the move to the suburbs, especilly after World War II. There wre many other cultural impacts of the automobile. Few events were more important for an America boy than obtaining that all important driving license. Other countries were similarly affected, but not to the same extent as the United States. Historical images of boys' clothing sometimes appeared in automobile adverisements. Many American families would have photographs taken around the family automobile. It is interesting to notec when searching through E-Bay, the number of American portraits picturing the children and parents with the family car.



There are two kinds of aircraft, lighter and heavier than air craft. Working with lighter-than-air craft was the technologically simplier effort. The first flight was with a hot-air baloon in France (18th century. These ballons had little commercial interest, but som military applicatoins, especially battlefield observation. It was Count Zeppelin in Germany that built the first rigid structure lighter-than-air craft. His Zeppelins were used unsucessfully in World War I, but found some commercial success until the cartratrophic Hindenburg disaster. The related non-rigid blimps proved to have greater military value. They were used by the British as barage balloons during the Battle of Britain (1940). There real importance was the use by the American Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic (1942-45). The Wright brothers in 1903 accomplished the first sustained flight of a heavier than air craft. This was an accomplishment that a numbr of Europeans had been working on for several years. Surprisingly two American bicycle repairmen with little funding and only basic educations accomplished it. For several years the Wright Flyers were the only safe airplanes. The airplane proved to be of enormous military and commercial importance. Air power in just a few years revolutionized warfare. It also revolutionized travel. What began has a very expensive mode of transport for the wealthy after World War II with the introduction of jet engines became the primary mode of transport for people of all classes.


Fowler, William M. Steam Titans: Cunard, Collins, and the Epic Battle for Commerce on the North Atlantic (Bloomsbury: 2017).


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Created: June 28, 2003
Last updated: 11:31 AM 5/16/2018