Transportation Revolution – The Industrial Revolution

Causes Before the Industrial Revolution, there was a time lag in almost everything that took place in the United States. It took weeks and sometimes months just to send a letter or pass information. It took months to send packages or goods across the country. Everything happened at a glacial […]



Before the Industrial Revolution, there was a time lag in almost everything that took place in the United States. It took weeks and sometimes months just to send a letter or pass information. It took months to send packages or goods across the country. Everything happened at a glacial pace. The Transportation Revolution changed all of that. 



The five elements that revolutionized transportation are:

  1. Roads
  2. River Traffic
  3. Steamboats
  4. Canals
  5. Railroads



Before the Industrial Revolution, there were very few roads, and even they were in bad condition. They were muddy, flooded easily, and were filled with boulders. This made travel by stagecoach or wagon very difficult and dangerous. 

That all changed in 1817. In 1817, Congress authorized the construction of the National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road. This road extended from Maryland to the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia. This was the first road to cross the Appalachian Mountains into the territory known as the Old Northwest. The National Road was the largest road-building project to occur before the 20th century, and it was a route of crushed stone. Although this is not as advanced as roads later became, it was a huge improvement! Crushed stone was much easier to travel over. It would not get muddy or flood. Along withthe National Road, states chartered turnpikes, or toll roads. These roads not only provided easier and quicker travel, but also collected revenue for the states. Roads made transportation by wagon much faster than it was before.

River Traffic


Before the Industrial Revolution, rivers were the easiest and the fastest way to transport goods from the North to the South because the river’s current carried all of the goods to where they needed to go. But how would you transport goods by river if you wanted to go upstream? By the flatboat, the previously used boat, it would be extremely difficult and slow.

With the Transportation Revolution came keelboats. Keelboats were built around a rigid timber in the middle with sails; they were built to go upstream. You could also pole or row them upstream if there was no wind. This improved transportation by river because flatboats could quickly transport downstream, and keelboats could quickly transport upstream. 



At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the steam engine became widely popular. In 1787, John Fitch demonstrated the first steamboat, which had twelve paddles and was propelled by a steam engine. From 1787 to the 1830s, steamboats were improved. In 1787, James Rumsey created the world’s first boat moved by jet propulsion. In 1804, John Stevens built a steamboat with a new high-pressure steam engine. Countless people attempted to improve steamboats so that they could carry passengers and cargo. Robert Fulton was the first to accomplish this task. By purchasing a steam engine built by James Watt, he was able to use the engine to power a 133-foot steamboat, the Clermont. In 1807, Robert Fulton’s boat made a journey from New York City to Albany. By the 1830s, steamboats were the convention. They were used as methods of transportation in canals and other navigable waterways. They were used to promote trade. 



Canals are man-made waterways. By building canals, you could connect cities by water and make inland transportation quicker and easier. In April 1817, New York authorized the construction of the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was a 363-mile canal connecting Albany on the Hudson River with Buffalo, New York. When completed in 1825, the Erie Canal was immediately popular. It was an inexpensive route from New York to the Old Northwest. Not only were goods able to be transported faster, but the cost went down as well. The cost of inland transportation plummeted from $100 a ton to less than $8 a ton. The Erie Canal also linked farms in the West to markets in the East. This led to a growth in agriculture and growth of the national markets, otherwise known as the Market Revolution. The Erie Canal revolutionized transportation and set the path for states to begin building their own canals to promote industrialization. 



Of all the advancements of the Transportation Revolution, the construction of railroads was the most significant. The first railroads carried goods for short distances, but the idea of a railroad sparked interest. Inventors and engineers wanted to be able to develop a railroad that could be used to carry goods or even passengers long distance. In 1826, a group of businessmen launched the first American railway, named the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O). After the success of the B&O in Maryland, many other companies began building railroads. However, many problems emerged. Railroads were expensive and were hastily built. There were many accidents and delays. Also, different companies used different widths of track, so only certain trains could travel on certain railroads. In 1830, Robert Livingston Stevens solved this problem by designing an iron T-shaped rail. After this invention, railroads grew from three thousand miles to thirty thousand miles in only 20 years. Shipping costs greatly decreased and industry expanded. This also contributed to the Market Revolution. 

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