Transportation in the 19th Century

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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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