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Industrial Revolution


History >> Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution completely changed the way people traveled and how goods were transported. Before the Industrial Revolution, transportation relied on animals (like horses pulling a cart) and boats. Travel was slow and difficult. It could take months to travel across the United States in the early 1800s.

Celebrated race of the steamers Robt. E. Lee and Natchez
by William M. Donaldson
Steamboats and Rivers

One of the best ways to travel and ship goods before the Industrial Revolution was the river. Boats could travel downstream quite easily using the current. Traveling upstream was much more difficult, however.

The problem of traveling upstream was solved during the Industrial Revolution by the steam engine. In 1807, Robert Fulton built the first commercial steamboat. It used steam power to travel upstream. Steamboats were soon used to transport people and goods along rivers throughout the country.


In order to make better use of water transportation, canals were built to connect rivers, lakes, and oceans. The most important canal built in the United States was the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal ran 363 miles and connected Lake Erie to the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean. It was completed in 1825 and became a source of commerce and travel from the western states to New York.


The invention of the railroad and the steam powered locomotive opened up a whole new world in transportation. Now trains could travel wherever tracks could be built. Transportation was no longer limited to rivers and canals. Starting around 1830, railroads began to be constructed in the eastern part of the United States. Soon they stretched across the country with the First Transcontinental Railroad completed in 1869.

Railroads changed the culture of the United States and made the country seam much smaller. Before railroads, it could take months to travel across the United States. California seemed like a different world from east coast cities like New York and Boston. By the 1870s, a person could travel from New York to California in just a few days. Letters, goods, and packages could also be transported much faster.
Construction of a macadam road
Macadam Road Construction
by Carl Rakeman (1823)


Even with steamboats and railroads, people still needed a better way to travel between rivers and train stations. Before the Industrial Revolution, roads were often poorly maintained dirt roads. During the Industrial Revolution, the government became more involved in building and maintaining good roads. A new process called the "macadam" process was used to create smooth gravel roads.

Interesting Facts about Transportation During the Industrial Revolution

More on the Industrial Revolution:

How it Began in the United States

Alexander Graham Bell
Andrew Carnegie
Thomas Edison
Henry Ford
Robert Fulton
John D. Rockefeller
Eli Whitney
Inventions and Technology
Steam Engine
Factory System
Erie Canal

Labor Unions
Working Conditions
Child Labor
Breaker Boys, Matchgirls, and Newsies
Women During the Industrial Revolution

Works Cited

History >> Industrial Revolution

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