in the 1700's one could travel

Colonial Travel

Whether by land or by sea, eighteenth century colonial travel was arduous, expensive, and many times dangerous. Because of this, many few people traveled very far from their homes - a striking difference from the world of today, where a trip across the ocean takes only a few hours, compared to a voyage of several months in Colonial times.

18th century american travel

Who Could Travel

In those days, it was fairly expensive to travel. Because of this, generally only government officials, merchants, and planters took the risk. They had to make trips for business or for official duty - but they were among the select few who could afford it.

Also, it was the men who did the traveling. Women, for the most part, were expected to stay home and look after the children and to tend to their husband's affairs in his absence.

African-American slaves were also not allowed to travel in many parts of the country without permission or the accompaniment of their masters. If any were caught without a written pass signed by their masters, they were assumed to be runaways.

How They Traveled

Although there weren't motor vehicles, airplanes, or even steam technology at the time, there were various modes of transportation available to the Colonists. The most common mode, and the cheapest, was walking. People would travel by foot for extraordinary distances to get supplies or visit friends and family. The lower classes rarely, if ever, travelled for pleasure.

Another popular means of travel, especially in the southern colonies, was by horseback. Because of the ease of transport horses afforded, many colonists bought a horse as soon as they could afford its maintenance. The price of a horse ranged from £5 - £1000, depending on breeding, speed, and ability. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson frequently would enjoy long rides in their Virginia country estates, and riding became as much as a source of leisure as it would be an essential means of transport.

Covered Wagon - Conestoga Wagon

Many people, who could afford it, had a wheeled vehicle at their disposal as well. Farmers, especially, used carts and wagons for work around the farm and to cart supplies into town for sale or trade. The Conestoga Wagon (shown above) was used to transport large amounts of materials over long distances. The wagon was named after the Conestoga River near what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and was the earliest American form of the Covered Wagon, which early pioneers would use to settle the area west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Although the colonists had made many technological advancements in transportation since the arrival of the Mayflower in the early seventeenth century, transcontinental journeys were still treacherous and time consuming. Ships traveling across the Atlantic took at least six to eight weeks, sometimes longer depending on weather conditions.

Early American Ships

Some of the threats early seafarers faced, apart from cabin fever in cramped quarters, were disease, shipwreck, and piracy. If they managed to avoid these, many of the passengers dealt with chronic seasickness, and the perpetual rocking of the ship kept them bedridden throughout their voyage.

Because the journey took such a long time, visitors to different countries would stay for months, sometimes even years. It was a very different world than the one that exists now, but it's thanks to the extraordinary bravery of these men and women who made these difficult journeys that America is the thriving nation it is today.

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Sail Away Blog

Sail from England to America in 1700s: How Long Did It Take?

Alex Morgan

in the 1700's one could travel

In the 1700s, transatlantic voyages from England to America marked a significant era in maritime history. These journeys were characterized by adventurous spirit, challenges, and the quest for new opportunities. Understanding the duration of these voyages provides insight into the hardships endured by travelers and the advancements in maritime navigation.

The typical duration of a transatlantic voyage in the 1700s varied based on several factors. Elements such as weather conditions, wind patterns, and the ship’s design played crucial roles in determining the length of the journey. Adverse weather conditions and unfavorable winds could significantly extend the voyage, creating a sense of uncertainty for the passengers and crew.

The usual route from England to America consisted of various ports of departure and arrival. Departures commonly occurred from English ports such as Bristol, Liverpool, or London, while arrivals typically took place in American ports like Boston, New York, or Charleston. These routes were not without difficulties, as travelers encountered challenges such as storms, sea ice, and pirate attacks.

The average time it took to sail from England to America in the 1700s depended on multiple factors. The ship’s speed, wind conditions, and the experience of the crew all played a role in determining the duration of the journey. On average, the voyage could take anywhere from several weeks to several months.

Noteworthy transatlantic voyages in the 1700s included record-breaking journeys by skilled navigators and ambitious explorers. These daring individuals pushed the boundaries of what was previously deemed possible, paving the way for future developments in maritime travel.

Over the centuries, transatlantic travel has undergone significant changes. Advancements in ship construction, navigation techniques, and the utilization of steam-powered vessels have contributed to shortening the duration of the journey. These improved technologies and techniques have made today’s transatlantic voyages significantly faster and more efficient.

Exploring the history of how long it took to sail from England to America in the 1700s not only sheds light on the challenges faced by our predecessors, but it also highlights the remarkable progress and innovations that have shaped modern transatlantic travel.

Key takeaway:

  • The duration of transatlantic voyages in the 1700s varied depending on several factors, such as wind and weather conditions, and the challenges faced during the journey.
  • The typical route from England to America involved departing from ports in England and arriving at various ports in America, with notable challenges encountered along the way.
  • The average time to sail from England to America was influenced by factors such as the type of ship, navigation techniques, and prevailing wind patterns, among others.

The Typical Duration of a Transatlantic Voyage

Embarking on a transatlantic voyage in the 1700s was no easy feat. The journey from England to America was a thrilling and unpredictable adventure. In this section, we will uncover the typical duration of these voyages and the factors that influenced their length. From the varying wind and weather conditions to other key elements, we’ll explore why some voyages were shorter, while others seemed to stretch on. So, fasten your seatbelts – it’s time to set sail into the intriguing world of transatlantic travel!

Embarking on a transatlantic voyage in the 1700s was no easy feat. The journey from England to America was a thrilling and unpredictable adventure. In this section, we will uncover the typical duration of these voyages and the factors that influenced their length. From the varying wind and weather conditions to other key elements , we’ll explore why some voyages were shorter, while others seemed to stretch on. So, fasten your seatbelts – it’s time to set sail into the intriguing world of transatlantic travel!

Factors Affecting the Duration

True story: The duration of a transatlantic voyage in the 1700s was greatly affected by environmental factors. An example is the voyage of the ship HMS Centurion during the Seven Years’ War. In 1761, the Centurion set sail from England to reach the Pacific Ocean. Due to unfavorable wind conditions, the ship faced significant delays. It took the Centurion an astonishing 5 months and 15 days to complete the journey. This extended duration was mainly due to adverse weather conditions and the challenges faced by the crew in navigating through treacherous seas. The story of the HMS Centurion demonstrates the impact of factors like wind, currents, and storms on the duration of transatlantic voyages in the 1700s.

The Influence of Wind and Weather Conditions

The influence of wind and weather conditions was crucial for transatlantic voyages in the 1700s. Sailors had to navigate their ships through unpredictable winds, which could be challenging and time-consuming.

The North Atlantic had prevailing westerlies, blowing from west to east, and ships traveling from England to America had to sail against these winds, making the journey longer.

The Atlantic Ocean is known for powerful storms and gales that could significantly delay a ship’s progress, making the voyage even longer.

In contrast to storms, there were calm regions called the doldrums , which could trap ships for days or weeks, leading to a lack of progress and increased voyage duration.

Sailors also had to contend with sea ice and dense fog, which could hinder visibility and navigation, potentially causing delays.

Understanding the influence of wind and weather conditions was crucial for sailors in the 1700s. It affected the duration of transatlantic voyages and the challenges they faced.

The Typical Route from England to America

Sailing across the vast Atlantic from England to America in the 1700s was no easy feat. Let’s embark on a journey into the typical route taken during that era. We’ll explore the ports of departure and arrival, immersing ourselves in the historical significance of these nautical connections. Along the way, we’ll confront the numerous challenges faced by courageous sailors , braving treacherous weather conditions and perilous voyages. Join me as we delve into the rich tapestry of seafaring adventures in the 1700s!

The Ports of Departure and Arrival

The 1700s transatlantic voyages between England and America had specific ports of departure and arrival. The Ports of Departure were London , Bristol , Liverpool , and Portsmouth . These ports were trade and maritime hubs, making them convenient for transatlantic journeys. The Ports of Arrival in America were Boston , Philadelphia , New York , and Charleston . These ports were commercial centers on the East Coast, providing access to industries and markets, attracting merchants and settlers.

The choice of departure and arrival ports depended on factors such as transportation availability, trade routes, and the specific destination in America. For example, Bristol was a common departure port for ships heading to Philadelphia , while London was popular for voyages to Boston . The journey from England to America involved navigating the Atlantic Ocean, and the ports played a crucial role in ensuring a successful and efficient voyage.

The Challenges Faced during the Journey

  • Rough Seas: Navigating through rough seas was a major challenge during transatlantic voyages in the 1700s. Unpredictable weather conditions, including storms and hurricanes, made the journey treacherous.
  • Limited Navigation Technology: The lack of advanced navigation technology was a significant challenge. Sailors relied on basic navigational tools like the compass, quadrant, and log line, making it difficult to determine the ship’s position and course accurately.
  • Scarcity of Fresh Water and Food: Long voyages meant limited access to fresh water and sufficient food supplies. Sailors had to ration their provisions carefully, and lack of proper nutrition and hydration could lead to malnourishment and illness.
  • Scurvy and Diseases: Lack of fresh fruits and vegetables on transatlantic voyages led to diseases like scurvy. Scurvy caused weakness, fatigue, and swelling of the gums, making the journey even more challenging for sailors.
  • Pirate Attacks: Pirate attacks were a threat during transatlantic voyages, especially in regions known for pirate activity. Sailors had to be vigilant and prepared to defend themselves and their cargo.
  • Isolation and Mental Strain: Transatlantic voyages were long and isolating, lasting for weeks or even months. The constant confinement and limited social interaction took a toll on sailors’ mental well-being, leading to feelings of loneliness and boredom.

The Average Time to Sail from England to America

Sailing from England to America in the 1700s was no small feat, and understanding the average time it took is crucial to appreciate the maritime challenges of that era.

In this section, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of transatlantic voyages, exploring factors that influenced the duration and uncovering surprising facts and figures along the way. So, hold on tight as we embark on a journey through time to discover just how long it took to sail across the vast Atlantic Ocean centuries ago.

Factors that Influenced the Duration

Noteworthy Transatlantic Voyages in the 1700s

In the eventful 1700s, the Atlantic Ocean witnessed some truly remarkable voyages that paved the way for transatlantic travel. Get ready to dive into a world of exploration and adventure as we uncover the captivating tales of record-breaking journeys across the vast ocean expanse. From daring sailors to unimaginable distances, join us as we embark on a thrilling journey through the notable transatlantic voyages of the 1700s.

Record-breaking Journeys

  • Sailors in the 1700s made record-breaking journeys to demonstrate their skill, determination, and innovation.
  • Captain George Anson completed a circumnavigation of the globe in just three years in 1740, one of the fastest record-breaking journeys of its time.
  • Captain James Cook successfully mapped the coast of New Zealand and Australia , covering over 26,000 nautical miles on his first voyage in 1768, a remarkable record-breaking journey .
  • Captain William Bligh navigated from England to Tahiti in just 10 months in 1787, a record-breaking journey and a remarkable achievement at the time.
  • These journeys showcased sailors’ bravery and advancements in navigation techniques and shipbuilding technology during the 1700s, as well as their record-breaking feats.

These voyages paved the way for future explorations and opened up new possibilities for transatlantic travel.

Changes in Transatlantic Travel over the Centuries

From treacherous voyages to advancements in navigation, join me as we uncover the captivating changes in transatlantic travel over the centuries. Discover the remarkable improvements in ships and navigation that transformed the perilous journey from England to America in the 1700s. Brace yourself for tales of adventure, daring explorations, and the evolution of seafaring technology that shaped the course of history. Get ready to set sail and embark on this riveting exploration of transatlantic travel!

Improvements in Ships and Navigation

Improvements in Ships and Navigation in the 1700s played a crucial role in Transatlantic voyages.

1. Ship Design: Shipbuilders developed advanced designs for better navigation and handling. Ships had stronger hulls, making them more seaworthy and capable of withstanding harsh weather conditions.

2. Navigation Instruments: Accurate navigational instruments, like the sextant and chronometer, enabled sailors to determine latitude and longitude with precision. This allowed for more accurate courses and reduced the risk of getting lost at sea.

3. Sails and Rigging: Innovations in sailing technology improved the efficiency of harnessing wind power. Sail configurations were optimized, enabling faster and smoother Transatlantic crossings.

4. Charting and Mapping: Improved cartography and mapping techniques provided sailors with detailed and accurate charts of sea routes. This helped navigation and avoidance of dangerous areas such as reefs, sandbars, and icebergs.

5. Communication Systems: Semaphore systems and signal flags enabled better communication between ships, facilitating coordination and collision avoidance.

6. Ship Maintenance: Understanding of ship maintenance and repair techniques improved, ensuring ships remained in top condition during long voyages. Regular maintenance and inspections prevented major breakdowns at sea.

These improvements significantly reduced the duration of Transatlantic voyages and enhanced the safety and comfort of sailors.

Some Facts About How Long Did It Take To Sail From England To America In The 1700s:

  • ✅ Ships traveling across the Atlantic in the 17th century took at least six to eight weeks, sometimes longer depending on weather conditions.
  • ✅ In the 1700s, overland travel from England to America took 10-14 days.
  • ✅ The Pilgrims, who left England in 1620, spent 66 days living onboard ships before reaching Cape Cod.
  • ✅ In the early 19th century, sailing ships took about six weeks to cross the Atlantic, but adverse weather could extend the journey to fourteen weeks.
  • ✅ By the 1860s, crossing times had reduced to about 8-9 days with the introduction of iron hulls, compound steam engines, and screw propulsion.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. how long did it take to sail from england to america in the 1700s.

In the 1700s, it took approximately 66 days to sail from England to America. The Pilgrims, for example, spent about a month and a half living on the ships before completing their journey to Cape Cod.

2. What factors influenced the duration of the journey?

Several factors influenced the sailing times, including the size of the ship, number of sails, time of year, hull shape, cargo, and weather conditions such as wind, pressure, fog, ice, and sea surface temperature. The direction of sailing, eastbound or westbound, also played a role.

3. Were there different sailing times for different types of ships?

Yes, there were variations in sailing times depending on the type of ship. For example, mail ships took about two weeks longer than merchant ships to travel from London to New York, even though the merchant ships covered a shorter distance. The book Ocean Passages for the World provides more information on sailing times and distances worldwide.

4. How were sailing times tracked and recorded?

Lloyd’s List, a newspaper reporting shipping movements and casualties, serves as a valuable resource for tracking down sailing times. It contained records on shipping rates and movements. Other sources like historical archives, the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum, and personal knowledge of ship captains and navigational techniques contributed to recording sailing times.

5. Can you explain the routes taken during this time?

Sailing routes during the 1700s involved following trade winds down the European coast, crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and then traveling up the American coast. The Gulf Stream, flowing west to east, aided in crossing from west to east, while traveling east to west required taking a route south of the Gulf Stream. Maps and visuals of British, Dutch, and Spanish shipping routes from this period provide insight into possible routes taken.

6. How did the travel experience differ for upper class and lower class travelers?

Upper class travelers likely had more comfortable conditions and resources on board, while lower class immigrants, often indentured to wealthier colonialists, endured treacherous conditions in cramped wooden ships. The journey typically lasted seven weeks, and the conditions were difficult and unimaginable by today’s standards.

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Travel was arduous in early America. Just how much this simple fact influenced the lives of early Americans is hard to overstate. A farmer’s economic prospects depended on how close they lived to good roads and navigable waterways that allowed them to transmit their crops to market. A person’s ability to bring lawsuits and to avail themselves of the legal system grew harder the further they lived from the county seat, or from roads that led to it. Americans even conceived of political representation in geographic terms. Northerners and Southerners passionately debated over the location of the nation’s capital. With the passage of the Residence Act in 1790, they determined that capital would be centrally located between the northern and southern ends of the United States, in what is now Washington D.C. The location of state capitals was also a matter of contention. Between 1776 and 1812, eleven states moved their capital at least once. All of this is to say that the more historians know about roads, ferries, and travel, the more they also know about how the economy worked, how law operated, and how political representation was structured.

Jefferson's travels June 20

An itinerary of travel from Philadelphia northward, 1791. Thomas Jefferson account book, 1791-1803

Thomas Jefferson, as a man of the Enlightenment, recorded, measured, and calculated things obsessively. This was especially true when he traveled. Jefferson recorded his observations about the flora and fauna he encountered on his journeys, jotted down details about the towns he visited and the people he met, and kept records of food and goods that he bought. All the while, Jefferson kept copious notes in his account book on the distances he traversed and the roads he traveled.

On May 17, 1791, Jefferson and James Madison left the nation’s temporary capital in Philadelphia on a month-long jaunt through the Hudson Valley, up to Lake George, then down through western Massachusetts, and finally back to Philadelphia. All told, according to Jefferson’s calculations, they traveled 920 miles. During the trip, Jefferson made notes when they stopped for meals or lodging or to meet with people. Then on June 20, a day after the duo returned, Jefferson recorded the entire itinerary of the trip, including the towns they passed through, the taverns between towns at which they stopped, and the miles they traveled between places by land and water. Even more interestingly, Jefferson kept track of the quality of the roads and ferry routes. He used an asterisk (*) to denote good quality routes, a cross (+) for “middling” ones, and a dash (-) for bad routes.

A few months later, Jefferson left the capital to return to Monticello. Again, he kept a detailed account of the distances he traveled each day and the places he passed through. This time, Jefferson made even more notes about the terrain, which ranged from “tolerably level,” to hilly, to “very mountainous.”

Jefferson's travel to Monticello

Travel to Monticello from Philadelphia, 1791. Thomas Jefferson account book, 1791-1803

Most of the roads were made of clay, gravel, sand, or loam (muddy, clay soil), though he also described a few as stumpy and others as “frogeaten.” In the margin, Jefferson scribbled a note that underscores just how compulsively he kept records of these journeys. Before he left on the trip, Jefferson bought from a Philadelphia watchmaker an odometer that counted the revolution’s of his carriage’s wheel. He had measured distance based “on the belief that the wheel of the Phaeton [his carriage] made exactly 360. revoln’s in a mile.” After the trip, though, he re-measured circumference of the wheel and found that it made only 354.95 revolutions in a mile. So for every seventy-one miles Jefferson thought he traveled, he had actually traveled seventy-two. How Jefferson found the time to do all of these calculations while serving as Secretary of State is another matter altogether.

On one level, these pages of Jefferson’s account book are merely records of two journeys he took, and testimonials to his propensity for measuring the world around him. On another level, these notes constitute a record of the travel routes and the quality of transportation infrastructure in a large swath of the most densely populated areas of the early United States.

Mapping Jefferson's travel to Monticello from Philadelphia

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  • Roads and Travel in New England 1790-1840

“There is more travelling [in the United States] than in any part of the world,” an article in the Boston American Traveler claimed in 1828. “Here, the whole population is in motion, whereas, in old countries, there are millions who have never been beyond the sound of the parish bell.” The editor of the same paper remarked two years later that whereas in 1786 it had taken as long as six days to travel by stage from Boston to New York, now the trip was made easily in only a day and a half. “Who will undertake to predict the wonderful results of the next half century?” he wondered.

Aside from the fact that his paper was dedicated to the interests of the coaching business, the editor had good reason for looking forward to another fifty years of improvement and growth in highway travel. Except for its navigable rivers and a handful of canals, the interior of New England in 1830 still was traversed only by a network of dirt and gravel roads. As in other parts of the country, there had been a flurry of excitement over canals during the 1820s following the initial success of New York’s Erie Canal. Only a few canals were built in New England, however, and despite the fact that the canal companies promised to reduce transportation costs, teamsters had been able to compete with them by selectively cutting their own charges and by offering services the canal companies were unable to duplicate. Agitation for railroads also had begun during the 1820s; Massachusetts chartered the Boston and Lowell in 1830. But claims that railroads would revolutionize transportation, although frequently made, remained to be proved.

By 1840, however, there were already more than 3,000 miles of track in the United States, including more than 400 miles in New England. Railroads came to dominate overland transportation so completely that a half century after 1830 it had been largely forgotten that the roads, which then carried mostly local traffic, once had been important arteries of commerce. Thus the historian of Ashburnham., Massachusetts, was describing experiences familiar only to his older readers when he wrote in 1887:

“For many years long lines of teams and a great amount of pleasure travel passed through the central village ... heavy wagons, drawn by four, six and eight horses, laden with produce for the market and returning with merchandise for the country stores, [and] four and six horse stages ... daily passed each way.”

With even further passage of time, improvements in overland transportation in the decades prior to the railroad era have become almost completely obscured by a mist of writings that either nostalgically relate the more romantic aspects of stagecoach and tavern days or that simply conclude that poor roads continued to keep inland communities isolated from effective links with the outside world until railroads brought about a revolution in transportation. In the hill country of northern New England, according to one twentieth?century account, “men and women were born, lived, and died without traveling twenty miles from the place of their birth.” Although there were undoubtedly people who fit that description, New Englanders even before the railroad era were increasingly a people on the move. This was true of the hundreds of thousands of Yankee migrants who made overland treks to new settlements far removed from their places of birth and it was also true of those who remained behind. It was made possible in part by improvements in the roads.

New England’s first great road?building era occurred during the period 1790 to 1840. Its first phase, commonly referred to as the turnpike era, began during the 1790s and had practically ended in all the New England states except Connecticut before the War of 1812. Some 240 corporations built more than 3,700 miles of toll roads. Every part of New England except Maine acquired an extensive turnpike network, although Connecticut was far in the lead with about 1,600 miles. A second phase occurred between 1820 and 1840 and was marked by an upsurge of construction at public (local) expense.

In few ways had the United States been more backward prior to the turnpike era than in the roads that linked the coastal towns with the growing inland settlements. Even near the largest towns main highways were at times so hard and rutted that they threatened to shake a vehicle to pieces and at other times so muddy as to be virtually impassable. An English traveler during the fall of 1795 had his vehicle sink to the hubs near the same place in the vicinity of Baltimore where the President of the United States recently had suffered a similar indignity. When the same traveler reached Baltimore he was detained for a week until the roads had frozen sufficiently for the Philadelphia stages to begin running again. Another foreign visitor who traveled by stage from New York to Philadelphia wrote that the passengers were ill for an hour or more after being slammed about on a particularly rough stretch of road. Other travelers described clouds of choking dust and vain efforts to defend themselves against the hordes of mosquitoes.

Newly settled areas, including parts of northern New England, were even less a place for the traveler faint?of?heart. A Connecticut minister who made a preaching tour of Vermont during the spring of 1789 at one point found himself in “mud belly deep to my horse and I thought I should have perished.” Even so inveterate a traveler as President Timothy Dwight of Yale could only marvel at the way settlers on the northern New England frontier adjusted to hardships of travel “over the worst roads, where both horses and men, accustomed to smoother ways, merely tremble, and creep.

“Over roads, encumbered with rocks, mire, and the stumps and roots of trees, they ride upon a full trot; and are apprehensive of no danger. Even the women of these settlements, and those of every age share largely in this spirit. The longest journies, in very difficult roads, they undertake with cheerfulness, and perform without anxiety. I have often met them on horseback; and been surprised to see them pass fearlessly over those dangers of the way, which my companions and myself watched with caution and solicitude.”

Southern New England had some of the best roads in the United States. The broad, smooth highway between Boston and Portsmouth was by far the best section of the great postal route from Portsmouth to Savannah, Georgia, and portions of the upper post road from Boston to New York, which led through Worcester, Springfield, and Hartford, also were considered good. But between Spencer and Wilbraham, Massachusetts, the same road was so poor in 1788 that a Frenchman, after being “bumped over rocks for thirty miles” in a springless carriage, concluded that “a coach with springs would have very soon upset and been smashed to pieces.” An Englishman who traveled by stage from Boston to Newport in 1797 wrote

“Very often we surprised a family of pigs taking a bath in a gully of sufficient compass to admit the coach. As often such chasms were filled by piles of stones that, at a distance, looked like Indian tumuli. I found there were two evils to be dreaded in New England travelling—a clayey soil in wet weather, which, unqualified with gravel, made the road a canal; and a sandy one in summer, which might emphatically be called an enormous insect preserve.” New England roads, he concluded, were “far better than those in any other quarter of the Union,” but “brought ... sad comparison with the bowling?greens of England.”

Each New England town was responsible for building and maintaining all roads within its limits. Colonial laws originally had required all adult males with few exceptions to work a certain number of days each year in the roads. These laws were revised during the eighteenth century so that by 1800 most towns annually voted a highway tax assessed in proportion to the value of property holdings. But these taxes continued to be paid in labor, and in halfhearted labor at that. Although conditions varied somewhat from town to town, indifference in most cases prevented significant improvement. A Connecticut man complained in 1797 that the people of many towns in that state “have gone fifty or an hundred years through sloughs, as often as they have gone to the house of God, and probably they would be content to do the same fifty years more unless the public relieves them.” Even the main street of “a flourishing and beautiful country town,” according to an account written in 1803, was likely to be littered with pieces of old fences and firewood, “old sleds bottom upwards, carts, casks, weeds and loose stones, lying along in wild confusion.” The roadway itself would be “scandalously bad; foot ways, or cross paths, ruts and gutters, with stones at every step, disturb the traveler in his carriage, and the teamsters with their loads. In a road of 80 miles, the worst part is that which passes through this charming street!” And voters indifferent to their own convenience, were even less inclined to exert themselves for the benefit of outsiders who passed through town on the main highways.

Labor on the roads was supervised by surveyors of highways, twenty to thirty of whom were elected annually by some small towns. When John Adams reached the age of twenty?one, he was surprised to find himself nominated for this job and objected that he knew nothing about road making. He was told that “they make it a rule to compell every Man to serve either as Constable or Surveyor, or to pay a fine.” Adams performed his duties in a conscientious way, even though a bridge built under his direction soon was washed away. It was charged, however, that most highway surveyors lacked interest as well as skill and that many of them were concerned only to have the roads past their own houses repaired.

Gangs of men working out their own or someone else’s highway taxes remained a common sight in many New England towns until well after the Civil War. Some work was done during the fall and a way had to be cleared after particularly heavy snowstorms, but most repair work was done on several days in June during the period between planting and haying. The roads then were deeply rutted but were no longer muddy from spring thaws and rains. Gutters were ploughed out and ruts filled with the dirt and decayed vegetation thus obtained. In many instances the dirt simply was piled high and left to be worn down by the wheels of passing vehicles, although ox?drawn scrapers sometimes were used to level and smooth. Much time was spent in leaning on shovels or hoes or resting in the shade, for a day on the roads was widely regarded as a holiday from farm work. Rum flowed freely, stories were told, and impromptu footraces and contests of strength occasionally were held. At the end of the day the workers were given credit for a day’s labor and left the roads in little better condition than they had found them.

In spite of these road conditions, traffic increased considerably during the latter half of the eighteenth century. One reason was that inland areas had become more fully settled. Families struggling to overcome the wilderness at first were able to procure little more than a bare subsistence and had little to trade with the outside world. But by the early 1790s, according to a contemporary account, even in towns settled no earlier than the time of the Revolution “the present inhabitants have overcome the first difficulties of clearing their farms, and begin to furnish considerable supplies of produce for market.” Butter, cheese, beef, pork, and other articles able to bear the cost of transportation over poor roads to the markets along the coast and navigable rivers were traded at inland stores for sugar, spirits, hardware, and occasional “gewgaws” such as “new fashioned blue and white ware,” “Very Elegant Fruit Baskets and Stands,” “wood painted fans,” and “silver tea and table spoons, sleeve buttons, knee buckles, broaches and clasps.” During the slack winter months many farmers brought sleds loaded with their produce to sell in Boston, Portsmouth, and other markets from as far away as northern Vermont and New Hampshire. One winter Saturday in 1803 more than 700 sleds and sleighs entered the river town of Hudson, New York, by way of a toll road leading from Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

The Revolutionary War was another factor in the growth of transportation. It created a temporary need for the movement of men and supplies over long distances, but more importantly, perhaps, many a New Englander returned from service with a greater realization that the world was not bounded by the limits of his own town and that distances could be overcome. Levi Pease, for example, had been a blacksmith in Blandford, Massachusetts, before serving as a courier and procurer of supplies during the Revolution. In 1783 he decided to start a stage line between Boston and Hartford despite the warning of at least one skeptic that there would not be sufficient patronage for such a line “in your day or mine.” There were then only about a dozen stage lines in New England, the longest of which ran between Boston and Portsmouth. Pease and his partner, starting business with two coaches and twelve horses, persisted even though at first they sometimes carried no passengers at all. They gradually attracted patronage and by 1786 had thrice?weekly stages running between Boston and New York. By 1795 there were “upwards of an hundred horses, and twenty carriages employed” between Boston and New Haven alone and competitors were trying to emulate Pease’s success.

Finally, business opportunities resulting from war in Europe during most of the period between 1793 and 1815 led to further growth in transportation. It was largely because of these opportunities that Timothy Pitkin could write in 1816, “No nation, it is believed, has ever increased so rapidly in wealth as the United States.” Shipping interests enjoyed the greatest profits, but farmers, who still relied primarily on overseas markets in a pre?industrial United States, also benefited from a growth in foreign demand. The quantity of barreled pork exported from the United States in 1795, for example, was more than three times what it had been four years earlier. Even so remote a community as Peacham, in northern Vermont, shared in the prosperity and a storekeeper there in 1801 warned “those few individuals who have dispensed with punctuality in their payments” that “it is much better for them to make remittances now, when articles of the country command a good price, than after they have fallen at least 50 per cent, which will probably take place, at the termination of the European war.”

By the end of the eighteenth century a growing number of New Englanders thus were directly affected by the condition of the roads. Among the number were stagecoach operators, storekeepers who made semiannual purchasing trips to New York or Boston in addition to using the roads for the transportation of goods, and those farmers who received lower prices for their produce at inland stores because transportation costs were high as well as those who made marketing trips themselves. The attitude of many of them was summed up in the complaint of a Connecticut farmer that “our winters are often open ? our spring and fall are rainy ? yet these are the seasons for going to market, and the poor farmer who lives 30 or 40 miles from water, must risk his cattle and his carriage, or lose the benefit of market.” Why, he wondered, must “the interior towns [continue] to drag their produce to market thro’ deep mud to the axle?trees of their carts and Waggons?”

As Americans during the 1790’s sought to form “a more perfect union,” the improvement of transportation facilities for purposes of both defense and development came to be regarded as a patriotic duty. This, together with the already growing importance of roads in New England and in other parts of the United States where forces similar to those described were at work, led to demands for improvement of the highways and for reform of the system of local responsibility for the roads. As long as the towns remained seemingly free to do almost as they pleased, according to one observer, “three centuries, perhaps ten, will pass away before the roads are made good and more money will be spent in vain than would dig the canals of China.”

Although the towns in theory were answerable to the states, laws relating to road standards had proved difficult to enforce. It was recognized that many towns, particularly the newer and more sparsely settled ones, lacked resources as well as the inclination to maintain through roads, which at any rate seemed to be primarily for the benefit of the travelers who used them. During the years following the Revolution, however, the states generally were in no position to assume the responsibility themselves or to increase already unpopular tax burdens. The day when they could look to the federal government for assistance in such matters still was far in the future. English eighteenth?century experience with toll roads financed by bonding had shown, moreover, that it was possible to secure better roads by requiring those who actually used them to pay the cost.

Given proper incentives, individuals with money to invest stood ready to undertake road building projects. With proper regulation, voluntary associations of such individuals might well prove more amenable as agents of the state than the towns had been. Toll bridge corporations had enjoyed some success during the 1780s and during the 90s a number of states similarly began chartering semi?public turnpike corporations, the name turnpike having been derived from an early device used to stop travelers on English toll roads. Although turnpike companies were owned by private shareholders who were to be permitted profits on their investments of as much as twelve per cent a year from the collection of tolls, it was well understood that they were in business to perform a public service as well as to earn profits. They were required to build and maintain their roads to standards approved by public commissioners, to charge no more than legally established rates of toll, and to locate their tollgates at specified intervals (usually ten miles) to prevent overcharging. In most cases the states also sought to protect the public by retaining the right to condemn and award compensation for land taken for turnpike use, thus erecting a barrier against abuses such as later occurred when railroads were given considerable freedom in determining their routes. As a further safeguard, most turnpike charters were to expire after the companies had earned back their investment plus profits averaging twelve per cent a year. Complaints that turnpikes were “injurious to the Rights of free men” usually were based on objections to paying toll. On the whole, public interests were fairly well protected during the turnpike era.

The Lancaster Turnpike, chartered by Pennsylvania in 1792, was the first toll?road corporation in the United States, although previously there had been a few experiments with toll roads based on the English model of a turnpike trust with a bonded debt to pay in Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut. Rhode Island established the second such corporation in 1794 and within two years each of the New England states had chartered at least one turnpike. With its relatively heavy concentration of population and wealth, the region during the next decade took the lead in this form of enterprise. In 1800 two?thirds of the seventy?two toll roads in the United States were in New England, twenty?three in Connecticut. “Turnpike roads seem to be the great rage of the day,” a traveler in Berkshire County observed in 1801. Two years later the Rev. William Bentley predicted that Essex County, Massachusetts, soon would “be intersected with the best [turnpike] roads, & the whole will probably be lucrative to adventurers.” By 1808, when Jefferson’s Embargo interrupted foreign trade and helped to bring an end to turnpike fever in New England, most of the important routes of travel and many unimportant ones had been taken over and improved by corporations.

Most New England toll roads, according to Fisher Ames, the former Federalist Congressman who was himself president of a turnpike company, were built “to facilitate country produce on its way to market.” Many closely followed previously established routes between the back country and the principal market towns. Boston, New England’s principal commercial center, became the hub of its turnpike system, with toll roads radiating outwards towards Providence, Hartford, the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts, and the New Hampshire line. A number of the latter roads connected with turnpikes leading across New Hampshire to the Connecticut River, where they in turn were linked with Vermont toll roads. Other New Hampshire turnpikes led towards Portsmouth and Portland. In western New England turnpikes led towards the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. In Rhode Island they were used to carry farm produce to Providence from rural towns in that state and parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Throughout the region, many of these roads, varying in length from a few miles to fifty or more, were combined into longer chains for through travel. Thus it was possible to journey most of the way from Boston to Burlington, Albany, or New York on toll roads. From Albany other turnpikes led most of the way across New York State.

Connecticut developed by far the most complex network of toll roads in New England. A visitor to that state in 1807 found “in almost every ... direction a turnpike?road; for, these roads being here made objects of private gain, and not as in England, of merely public care, they are established with avidity, on the smallest prospect of advantage.” Unlike Massachusetts or Rhode Island, Connecticut had no great center of wealth and commerce comparable with Boston or Providence and there was considerable competition among its market towns for the trade of the back country. Merchants and other interested individuals in Bridgeport, Hartford, Middletown, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, and Norwich were active in making their towns turnpike centers as a means of furthering that competition. Many of these towns had direct trade with the West Indies and all traded by water with New York or Boston, the principal centers for foreign trade. A number of inland towns, including Litchfield, Tolland, Torrington, and Windham, also became toll road centers upon which vehicles loaded with farm produce or imported goods converged from all directions. Competition for trade may have been one reason why Connecticut corporations continued to build toll roads until the mid?1830’s, while relatively few turnpike projects were undertaken in other New England states after 1808. More than eighty?six per cent of the 113 turnpike corporations chartered by the Connecticut legislature succeeded in raising the capital needed for their projects, while only slightly more than half the companies elsewhere in New England were similarly successful.

Although it was hoped at first that toll roads would return substantial earnings, Fisher Ames as early as 1802 wrote, “Turnpikes with the fairest prospect of success have seldom proved profitable.” Turnpike stock within a few years usually sold at far below its original cost. Although the financial records that have been preserved are far from complete, it is probable that a majority of New England toll roads failed even to earn back the cost of capital expenditures. Maintenance costs were one important factor in holding down earnings; the success of the public in evading toll payments was another. Since tollgates frequently were as far as ten miles apart, much of the local traffic using these free?access roads did so without paying any toll. In addition, toll roads, which usually followed a fairly straight course, often crossed older, winding roads in a number of places; travelers frequently were able to bypass tollgates by detouring temporarily onto one of these “shunpikes.” The Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike, main route between Boston and Providence, crossed one such road thirteen times in the space of a few miles; Ames, its president, once estimated that the company’s earnings would be almost sixty per cent greater if it were not for shunpikes. The owners of the Powder Mill Turnpike complained to the Rhode Island legislature that its road “hath ... so many places for turning Off, that unreasonable designing travellers, constantly take advantage of such old ... roads, avoiding the gate.” Connecticut turnpike companies, which often made only minor improvements (the average expenditure per mile for toll roads in that state was about $550 as against $1300 in New Hampshire), had by far the best earnings. The Talcott Mountain Turnpike, part of the main route between Hartford and Albany, had average profits of 10.9 per cent a year for four decades and at least twenty other companies earned average profits of from three to 9.5 per cent a year for ten years or longer. Elsewhere in New England, only five roads are known to have had earnings within the same range.

While turnpikes seldom returned direct profits to investors, they did benefit many merchants and tavern keepers in the form of new trade. Real estate values in the vicinity of toll roads tended to rise. Those who used the new roads also benefited. Timothy Dwight, in describing the turnpike between Norwich and New London, wrote that before it was built

“few persons attempted to go from one of the places to the other, and return, on the same day. The new road is smooth and good; and the journey is now easily performed in little more than two hours. These towns, therefore, may be regarded as having been brought nearer to each other more than half a day’s journey.”

Robert Rantoul wrote of the Salem Turnpike in 1872

“How much the new route, only twelve miles and a fraction long, did to bring us and the metropolis together, will be recalled with pleasure by some yet living who enjoyed for the first time, in the fall of 1803, an evening ride to Boston with a ball, a concert, or a play in prospect to give zest to the excursion.”

Most importantly, perhaps, turnpike companies introduced and popularized improved methods of road building. Roads that once had been little more than cleared paths, narrow and winding, were widened and straightened. Crowned surfaces and ditches were used to provide drainage. Gravel also was used on the better toll roads. Turnpike builders, to be sure, often were so preoccupied with the shortening of distances that they chose to follow a straight line over steep hills that should have been avoided. Many such mistakes eventually had to be corrected, but in general grades on turnpikes probably were less steep than those on many earlier roads, which had been built from farm to farm with little regard for either distance or grade. Efforts were made, moreover, to reduce some of the worst grades by means of cutting and filling.

These methods soon were put to use by some towns to improve roads still under local control. A resident of Goshen, Connecticut, wrote in 1812

“The common roads in this town have for the last ten years been in a state of rapid improvement. This has been owing partly, to the running of two turnpike roads through the town, crossing each other at the meeting house, which not only throws more [of the townspeople’s] labour on the common roads but gives us ... a precedent [for their improvement].”

Daniel Webster recalled in later years that before the turnpike era there had been no road usable by carriages between New Hampshire’s three major rivers. “Perhaps,” he said, “the most valuable result of making these turnpike roads was the diffusion of knowledge upon road making among the people; for in a few years afterward, great numbers of the people went to church, to electoral and other meetings, in chaises and wagons, over very tolerable roads.”

Following its decline after 1808, road building activity became intensified again between 1820 and 1840. A number of new highways were built as New England began to turn toward manufacturing and as older communities situated near suitable sources of water power began to grow and new ones came into existence. Private investors by then seldom were willing to undertake risky toll?road projects. As a result, despite continued opposition, the burden of building roads “of general use and importance to the public” once again was thrust upon the towns. In Massachusetts and New

Hampshire the counties occasionally shared part of the cost. New laws gave the counties firm authority over the towns in matters relating to roads, particularly in Massachusetts and Maine, where elected county commissioners were empowered to order and supervise the building of any road they considered necessary and to have the work done at the expense of any town that refused to carry out their orders. These laws were unpopular and similar ones soon were repealed in Vermont and New Hampshire. Before 1840, however, public roads once again had become the dominant element in New England’s highway system.

These newer roads in many instances took traffic from the turnpikes, a number of which went out of business between 1820 and 1840. By the latter date some toll roads also were affected by competition from railroads. Those that remained in business came to be regarded as obnoxious vestiges of a period when governments had granted special privileges to favored groups. Petitioners to the New Hampshire legislature, in 1834 complained that

“In the early days of this country, such corporations tended greatly to facilitate the public travel; yet, when towns became sufficiently wealthy to support Free Roads, Turnpikes became a grievance to the inhabitants, and a burden to the traveler.”

New Hampshire in 1838 enacted a law under which town selectmen were permitted to condemn a turnpike company’s property and take it over as a public road. But even in New Hampshire it appears that the towns usually permitted companies to continue maintaining their roads until declining revenues forced them out of business. By this time their property was virtually worthless and the towns were compelled to award them very little in the way of damages. Probably half the toll roads in New England had ceased to operate by 1850; nearly all were gone by the end of the century. The last company abandoned its road about the time of World War I.

New England’s highway system in 1840 was still the best in the United States, although far below the standards of such advanced countries as England and France. The best roads were in eastern Massachusetts and in the vicinity of Hartford, Providence, and other large towns. These were in good condition nearly all year except for short periods during the early spring and fall. The worst roads may have been in Maine, where it was reported in 1832, “the communication is uniformly good only for a few months in summer, and a few weeks in the winter.” According to the same account, however, New England roads were considered “generally fine,” [and] are thronged with stage coaches, most of which are good.”

Fifty years after Levi Pease went into the coaching business, nearly 300 stage lines served almost every corner of the region. In 1790 most travel had been on horseback and private pleasure vehicles had been a rare sight out side the largest towns. In 1840 there were more than 6,000 such vehicles in Connecticut alone and a traveler on horseback had become a rare sight. The two?wheeled oxcart commonly had been used for hauling heavy loads in 1790. Before 1840 four?wheeled wagons drawn by horses were “used in almost every family in the country” and were to be found on the roads hauling wool and other supplies purchased throughout New England and parts of New York from agents in Boston and Providence to mills in Oxford, Southbridge, and Webster, Massachusetts. They returned with finished cloth. They carried great loads of mackerel barrels from coopers’ shops in southern New Hampshire to the wharves of Boston, Newburyport, Portsmouth, and Salem, iron, marble, and lime from western Connecticut and Massachusetts to shipping points along the Hudson River.

Farmers throughout the period continued to make winter journeys to market and drovers brought large numbers of cattle and hogs to the great Brighton market near Boston from all over northern New England and parts of New York. Country storekeepers also continued to take farm produce in trade, sending it to market in return for store goods. Brimfield, Massachusetts, had three stores and according to the recollection of one resident:

“Every Saturday afternoon the sheds and hitching post were surrounded by the horses and, wagons of the farmers who had come into town with their wives and daughters to trade off their poultry, butter and eggs for store goods, and in the fall of the year, when the hogs had been killed and the turkeys fattened and dressed for market, the store keepers would purchase them, and some Monday morning when they had made up a load would start a man and team for Boston with them, who would return Saturday night with a wagon load of new goods, the arrival of which was an occasion of great interest.”

Transportation needs grew sufficiently before 1840 for teaming to become a regular form of employment. Regularly scheduled baggage wagons operated between the larger towns; independent teamsters also worked for store keepers, factory owners, and other businessmen. A survey in 1828 of the transportation needs of thirty?five towns near the route of a proposed railroad from Boston to Albany showed that an estimated average of 740 tons a year was transported by land between each town and its markets. It was reported at the same time that an average of forty loaded wagons a day carrying 14,000 tons a year passed through Bolton, Massachusetts, on their way between Boston and towns in the vicinity of Greenfield, Massachusetts, and Brattleboro, Vermont. One teamster, Moses Peck, made more than 100 trips between Montpelier, Vermont, and Boston between 1820 and 1828, drawing loads of up to four tons with his six?horse team. Vehicles such as Peck’s were part of what Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 described as

“the endless procession of wagons loaded with the wealth of all regions of England and China, of Turkey, of the Indies, which from Boston creep by my gate to all the towns of New Hampshire and Vermont. With creaking wheels at midsummer, and, crunching the snows, on huge sledges in January, the train goes forward at all hours, bearing this cargo of inexhaustible comfort and luxury to every cabin in the hills.”

By present standards the roads and vehicles of the time were still primitive and Emerson’s “endless procession” was but a trickle. Although they declined somewhat during the period, transportation costs (often as high as $20 per ton for 100 miles) continued to affect prices and to exclude bulky, low?value products from distant markets. Dairy products and meat, along with wool, were still among the relatively few items of farm produce that could be transported profitably long distances. The price of wool, which in December 1830 sold in Boston for from thirty to sixty?seven cents per pound, was little affected by transportation costs. Hay, on the other hand, sold for only sixty to seventy cents per hundred pounds, and it cost about as much as that commodity was worth to transport it by land sixty or seventy miles. The distance i it could be transported profitably was much less than that. The farmers of New Braintree, in central Massachusetts, sent 200 tons of cheese, butter, and pork to market in Boston in 1822, but it was complained that transportation costs prevented them from growing oats or potatoes commercially and from purchasing plaster of Paris for use as a fertilizer. Vermont, because of its distance from most markets, was particularly hard hit by freighting costs. Governor Samuel Crafts complained in 1830 that “the more bulky products of our agriculture, of our forests, and our mountains, excepting so much as are necessary for the use of our inhabitants, are valueless.” Worcester, Massachusetts, was only about forty miles from Boston, but the charge for overland freight during the 20’s and early 30’s was about $10 per ton; “it costs less to transport a ton of heavy goods from Liverpool ... to Boston, than from Boston to Worcester.”

After the opening of the Boston and Worcester Railroad in 1835 the cost of freighting was reduced to about $3.50 per ton. Such reductions led many New Englanders to hope that railroads would permit farmers and manufacturers to do a much greater volume of business and to market a greater variety of products than was possible as long as they had to rely on highway transportation. But some changes that the railroads were to bring were not anticipated. Cheaper transportation enabled western farmers to compete successfully with their New England counterparts in supplying some types of food to the region’s growing cities. And the residents of more than one village that had been outstripped by towns closer to the railroad probably came to echo the complaint that “railroads are sometimes feeders and sometimes drains.”

Developments in transportation during the decades after 1840 far surpassed the “wonderful results” of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Yet even before the railroad era, the physical isolation of New England’s inland communities had been broken down to a considerable extent. “Of late years,” the editor of a Concord, New Hampshire, paper wrote in 1839, “such has been the passion for improving roads, for evading bad hills, shortening distances and turning travelers by particular locations” that transportation had been facilitated “to an extent beyond what . . . settlers fifty and sixty years ago would have anticipated.” Even during muddy periods of spring and fall, “so much has travel increased, so great is the transit of heavy goods, as well as of many travellers to and from the interior and seaboard, that at the worst period of the roads there seems, if possible, to be most travel.”

The road, Horace Bushnell wrote shortly after 1840, “is that physical sign or symbol by which you will best understand any age or people ... for if there is any motion in society, the road, which is the symbol of motion, will indicate the fact.” Better roads and increased traffic during the period 1790 to 1840 resulted from and contributed to a quickening pulse in the economic and social life.

Roger N. Parks, Roads and Travel in New England 1790-1840 , (Sturbridge, Mass.: Old Sturbridge Village, 1967).

Copyright: Old Sturbridge Inc.

  • The American Revolution
  • Indian Removal
  • Isaiah Thomas - Patriot Printer
  • Lesson Plans
  • Aspects of the Changing Status of New England Women
  • Dining Out in the 1830's
  • Early 19th Century Attitudes Toward Women and Their Roles
  • Early Taverns and the Law
  • Gathering Places
  • Historical Background on Traveling in the Early 19th Century
  • The Blackstone Canal: Artery to the Heart of the Commonwealth
  • The Debit Economy of 1830s New England
  • Where Did Women Work on New England Farms?
  • Temperance Reform in the Early 19th Century
  • The Dred Scott Decision
  • The Kansas-Nebraska Act and Bleeding Kansas
  • The Second Great Awakening and the Age of Reform
  • War of 1812 and the Hartford Convention
  • Westward Expansion

In Development

  • Nineteenth-Century Immigration
  • The Civil War

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Module 8: Industrial Transformation (1800-1850)

On the move: the transportation revolution, learning objectives.

  • Describe the development of improved methods of nineteenth-century domestic transportation
  • Identify the ways in which roads, canals, and railroads impacted Americans’ everyday lives in the nineteenth century

American Commerce

The growth of the American economy reshaped daily life in the decades before the Civil War. Americans increasingly produced goods for sale, not for consumption. With a larger exchange network connected by improved transportation, the introduction of labor-saving technology, and the separation of the public and domestic spheres, the market revolution fulfilled expectations of progress but introduced troubling new trends. Class conflict, child labor, accelerated immigration, and the expansion of slavery followed. These strains required new family arrangements and forged new urban cultures.

American commerce had proceeded haltingly during the eighteenth century. American farmers increasingly exported foodstuffs to Europe as the French Revolutionary Wars (also called the Napoleonic Wars) devastated the continent between 1793 and 1815. America’s exports rose in value from $20.2 million in 1790 to $108.3 million by 1807. But while exports rose, exorbitant internal transportation costs hindered substantial economic development within the United States. In 1816, for instance, $9 could move one ton of goods across the Atlantic Ocean, but only 30 miles across land. An 1816 Senate Committee Report lamented that “the price of land carriage is too great” to allow the profitable production of American manufactures. But in the wake of the War of 1812, Americans rushed to build a new national infrastructure, including networks of roads, canals, and railroads. In his 1815 annual message to Congress, President James Madison stressed “the great importance of establishing throughout our country the roads and canals which can best be executed under national authority.” State governments continued to sponsor the greatest improvements in American transportation, but the federal government’s annual expenditures on internal improvements climbed to a yearly average of $1,323,000 by Andrew Jackson’s presidency.

Figure 1 . Clyde Osmer DeLand, “The First Locomotive. Aug. 8th, 1829. Trial Trip of the “Stourbridge Lion,” 1916.

State legislatures meanwhile pumped capital into the economy by chartering banks and the number of state-chartered banks skyrocketed from 1 in 1783, 266 in 1820, 702 in 1840, to 1,371 in 1860. European capital also helped to build American infrastructure. By 1844, one British traveler declared that “the prosperity of America, her railroads, canals, steam navigation, and banks, are the fruit of English capital.”

Economic growth, however, proceeded unevenly. Depressions devastated the economy in 1819, 1837, and 1857. Each followed rampant speculation—bubbles—in various commodities: land in 1819, land and enslaved persons in 1837, and railroad bonds in 1857. But Americans refused to blame the logic of their new commercial system for these depressions. Instead, they kept pushing “ to get forward .”

The Transportation Revolution

The so-called Transportation Revolution opened up the vast lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. In 1810, for instance, before the rapid expansion of American infrastructure, a traveler named Margaret Dwight left New Haven, Connecticut, in a wagon headed for the Ohio Territory. Her trip was less than 500 miles but took six full weeks to complete. The journey was a terrible ordeal, she said. The roads were “so rocky & so gullied as to be almost impassable.” Ten days into the journey, at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Dwight said “it appeared to me that we had come to the end of the habitable part of the globe.” She finally concluded that “the reason so few are willing to return from the Western country, is not that the country is so good, but because the journey is so bad.” Nineteen years later, in 1829, English traveler Frances Trollope made the reverse journey across the Allegheny Mountains from Cincinnati to the east coast. At Wheeling, Virginia, her coach encountered the National Road, the first federally funded interstate infrastructure project. The road was smooth and her journey across the Alleghenies was a scenic delight. “I really can hardly conceive a higher enjoyment than a botanical tour among the Alleghany Mountains,” she declared. The ninety miles of National Road was to her “a garden.”

Figure 2 . Engraving based on W.H. Bartlett, “Lockport, Erie Canal,” 1839.

If the two decades between Margaret Dwight’s and Frances Trollope’s journeys transformed the young nation, the pace of change only accelerated in the following years. If a transportation revolution began with improved road networks, it soon incorporated even greater improvements in the ways people and goods moved across the landscape, including canals, steamboats, and railroads.

Roads and Canals

A painting presents a bucolic, romantic depiction of the Erie Canal and its environs. A single vessel is present on the water, and a man conducts several horses alongside the canal. A city is barely visible in the background.

Figure 3 . Although the Erie Canal was primarily used for commerce and trade, in Pittsford on the Erie Canal (1837), George Harvey portrays it in a pastoral, natural setting. Why do you think the painter chose to portray the canal this way?

One key part of the transportation revolution was the widespread building of roads and turnpikes. In 1811, construction began on the Cumberland Road, a national highway that provided thousands with a route from Maryland to Illinois. The federal government funded this important artery to the West, beginning the creation of transportation infrastructure for the benefit of settlers and farmers. Other entities built turnpikes , which (as today) charged fees for use. New York State, for instance, chartered turnpike companies that dramatically increased the miles of state roads from one thousand in 1810 to four thousand by 1820. New York led the way in building turnpikes.

Canal mania swept the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. Promoters knew these artificial rivers could save travelers immense amounts of time and money. Even short waterways, such as the two-and-a-half-mile canal going around the rapids of the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky, proved a huge leap forward, in this case by opening a water route from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. The preeminent example was the Erie Canal , which linked the Hudson River, and thus New York City and the Atlantic seaboard, to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Valley.

With its central location, large harbor, and access to inland markets via the Hudson River, New York City already commanded the lion’s share of commerce. Still, the city’s merchants worried about losing ground to their competitors in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Their search for commercial advantage led to the dream of creating a water highway connecting the city’s Hudson River to Lake Erie and markets in the West, resulting in the Erie Canal. Chartered in 1817 by the state of New York, the canal took seven years to complete. When it opened in 1825, it dramatically decreased the cost of shipping while reducing the time to travel to the West. Soon $15 million worth of goods (more than $200 million in today’s money) was being transported on the 363-mile waterway every year.

Link to learning

Explore the Erie Canal on via an interactive map. Click throughout the map for images of and artifacts from this historic waterway.

Listen to the 1905 song “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” written after engine power replaced the hard-working mules that had pulled the barges, allowing them to travel more than just fifteen miles per day. The song talks about a canal worker’s friendship with his mule, Sal.

The success of the Erie Canal led to other similar projects. The Wabash and Erie Canal, which opened in the early 1840s, stretched over 450 miles, making it the longest canal in North America. Canals added immensely to the country’s sense of progress. Indeed, they appeared to be the logical next step in the process of transforming wilderness into civilization.

Map (a) shows the route taken by the Wabash and Erie Canal through the state of Indiana. Photograph (b) shows a portion of the Erie Canal in 2007.

Figure 4 . This map (a) shows the route taken by the Wabash and Erie Canal through the state of Indiana. The canal began operation in 1843 and boats operated on it until the 1870s. Sections have since been restored, as shown in this 2007 photo (b) from Delphi, Indiana. Visit Southern Indiana Trails to see historic photographs of the Wabash and Erie Canal:

As with highway projects such as the Cumberland Road, many canals were federally sponsored, especially during the presidency of John Quincy Adams in the late 1820s. Adams, along with Secretary of State Henry Clay, championed what was known as the American System , part of which included plans for a broad range of internal transportation improvements. Adams endorsed the creation of roads and canals to facilitate commerce and develop markets for agriculture as well as to advance settlement in the West. Along with these commerce-enabling infrastructural investments, the American System also featured a national bank and a program of tariffs to protect domestic manufacturing.

Robert Fulton established the first commercial steam boat service up and down the Hudson River in New York in 1807. Soon thereafter steamboats filled the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Downstream-only routes became watery two-way highways. By 1830, more than 200 steamboats moved up and down western rivers.

Starting in the late 1820s, steam locomotives began to compete with horse-drawn locomotives. The railroads with steam locomotives offered a new mode of transportation that fascinated citizens, buoying their optimistic view of the possibilities of technological progress. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was the first to begin service with a steam locomotive. Its inaugural train ran in 1831 on a track outside Albany and covered twelve miles in twenty-five minutes. Soon it was traveling regularly between Albany and Schenectady.

The United States’ first long-distance rail line launched from Maryland in 1827. Baltimore’s city government and the state government of Maryland provided half the start-up funds for the new Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Rail Road Company. The B&O’s founders imagined the line as a means to funnel the agricultural products of the trans-Appalachian West to an outlet on the Chesapeake Bay. Similar motivations led citizens in Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, and Charleston, South Carolina to launch their own rail lines. State and local governments provided the means for the bulk of this initial wave of railroad construction, but economic collapse following the Panic of 1837 made governments wary of such investments. Government supports continued throughout the century, but decades later the public origins of railroads were all but forgotten and the railroad corporation became the most visible embodiment of corporate capitalism.

Toward the middle of the century, railroad construction kicked into high gear, and eager investors quickly formed a number of railroad companies. As a railroad grid began to take shape, it stimulated a greater demand for coal, iron, and steel. Soon, both railroads and canals crisscrossed the states, providing a transportation infrastructure that fueled the growth of American commerce. Indeed, the transportation revolution led to the development of major coal, iron, and steel industries, which provided many Americans with new job opportunities.

An 1853 map of New York State shows its extensive networks of railroads and canals.

Figure 5 . This 1853 map of the “Empire State” shows the extent of New York’s canal and railroad networks. The entire country’s transportation infrastructure grew dramatically during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Americans on the Move

The expansion of roads, canals, and railroads changed people’s lives. In 1786, it had taken a minimum of four days to travel from Boston, Massachusetts, to Providence, Rhode Island. By 1840, the trip took half a day on a train. In the twenty-first century, this may seem intolerably slow, but people at the time were amazed by the railroad’s speed. Its average of twenty miles per hour was twice as fast as other available modes of transportation.

By 1840, more than three thousand miles of canals had been dug in the United States, and thirty thousand miles of railroad track had been laid by the beginning of the Civil War. Together with the hundreds of steamboats that plied American rivers, these advances in transportation made it easier and less expensive to ship agricultural products from the West to feed people in eastern cities, and to send manufactured goods from the East to people in the West. Without this ability to transport goods, the market revolution would not have been possible. Rural families also became less isolated as a result of the transportation revolution. Traveling circuses, menageries, peddlers, and itinerant painters could now more easily make their way into rural districts, and people in search of work found cities and mill towns within their reach.

The Communication Revolution

Such internal improvements not only spread goods, they spread information. The transportation revolution was followed by a communications revolution. The telegraph redefined the limits of human communication. By 1843 Samuel Morse persuaded Congress to fund a forty-mile telegraph line stretching from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. Within a few short years, during the Mexican-American War, telegraph lines carried news of battlefield events to eastern newspapers within days, in stark contrast to the War of 1812, when the Battle of New Orleans took place nearly two full weeks after Britain and the United States had signed a peace treaty.

The consequences of the transportation and communication revolutions reshaped the lives of Americans. Farmers who previously produced crops mostly for their own families now turned to the market. They earned cash for what they had previously consumed; they purchased the goods they had previously made or went without. Market-based farmers soon accessed credit through eastern banks, which provided them with the opportunity to expand their enterprise but left them vulnerable to distant and impersonal market forces. In the Northeast and Midwest, where farm labor was ever in short supply, ambitious farmers invested in new technologies that promised to increase the productivity of the limited labor supply. The years between 1815 and 1850 witnessed an explosion of patents on agricultural technologies. The most famous of these, perhaps, was Cyrus McCormick’s horse-drawn mechanical reaper, which partially mechanized wheat harvesting, and John Deere’s steel-bladed plow, which more easily allowed for the conversion of unbroken ground into fertile farmland.

Figure 6 . A. Janicke & Co., “Our City, (St. Louis, Mo.),” 1859.

Most visibly, the market revolution encouraged the growth of cities reshaped the lives of urban workers. In 1820, only two cities in the United States—New York and Philadelphia—had over 100,000 inhabitants. By 1850, six American cities met that threshold, including Chicago, which had been founded fewer than two decades earlier.  New technology and infrastructure paved the way for such growth. The Erie Canal captured the bulk of the trade emerging from the Great Lakes region, securing New York City’s position as the nation’s largest and most economically important city. The steamboat turned St. Louis and Cincinnati into centers of trade, and Chicago rose as it became the railroad hub of the western Great Lakes and Great Plains regions. The geographic center of the nation shifted westward. The development of stream power and the exploitation of Pennsylvania coalfields shifted the locus of American manufacturing. By the 1830s, for instance, New England was losing its competitive advantage as new sources and locations of power opened up in other regions.

Meanwhile, the cash economy eclipsed the old, local, informal systems of barter and trade. Income became the measure of economic worth. Productivity and efficiencies paled before the measure of income. Cash facilitated new impersonal economic relationships and formalized new means of production. Young workers might simply earn wages, for instance, rather than receiving room and board and training as part of apprenticeships. Moreover, a new form of economic organization appeared: the business corporation.

To protect the fortunes and liabilities of entrepreneurs who invested in early industrial endeavors, states offered the privileges of incorporation . A corporate charter allowed investors and directors to avoid personal liability for company debts. The legal status of incorporation had originally been designed to offer protection to organizations undertaking expensive projects designed for the public good, such as universities, municipalities, and major public works projects. The business corporation was something new. Many Americans distrusted these new, impersonal business organizations whose officers lacked personal responsibility while nevertheless carrying legal rights. Many wanted limits. Thomas Jefferson himself wrote in 1816 that “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” But in Dartmouth v. Woodward (1819) the Supreme Court upheld the rights of private corporations when it denied the government of New Hampshire’s attempt to reorganize Dartmouth College on behalf of the common good. Still, suspicions remained. A group of journeymen leatherworkers in New Jersey publicly declared in 1835 that they “entirely disapprov[ed] of the incorporation of Companies, for carrying on manual mechanical business, inasmuch as we believe their tendency is to eventuate and produce monopolies, thereby crippling the energies of individual enterprise.”

Review Question

What were the benefits of the transportation revolution?

American System:  an economic plan consisting of trade tariffs to protect American manufacturing, a national bank, and federal money for transportation infrastructure improvements like roads, canals, and bridges

Cumberland Road  a national highway that provided thousands with a route from Maryland to Illinois

incorporation: originally, incorporation was for the formation of towns or governments, but in the nineteenth century it extended to a new type of business model. Corporations were formed to allow business debts to fall on the company instead of on the individual investors or owners.

Erie Canal:  a canal that connected the Hudson River to Lake Erie and markets in the West

Mohawk and Hudson Railroad:  the first steam-powered locomotive railroad in the United States

turnpike:  a main road that collects tolls from drivers for its use

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  • The First locomotive. Authored by : Clyde O. DeLand. Provided by : Library of Congress. Located at : . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright
  • Lockport bartlett color crop. Authored by : W.H.Bartlett. Provided by : Wikimedia Commons. Located at : . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright
  • Our city (St. Louis, Mo.). Authored by : A. Janicke & Co.. Provided by : Library of Congress. Located at : . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

What Traveling Abroad In The 19th Century Was Really Like

Group of tourist in front of the Sphinx and pyramid 1800s

Compared with even 125 years ago, it's hard to imagine just how much travel abroad has changed. Airplanes have replaced ocean liners, travel has become much more affordable and safe, and the number of destinations around the globe catering to tourism has vastly increased. Trips that would have taken weeks or months by ship, can now be done in just a few hours via commercial jetliners. Even booking a vacation abroad is easier, as you only need a credit card, passport, and a smartphone, and you can find yourself almost anywhere on the globe in a matter of hours.

With luxury travel seemingly becoming standardized by today's standards, you better believe that things used to be much different back in the 19th century. Airplanes were far from being commercialized, requiring any travel over the ocean to be done by ship. This was both very time-consuming, which limited excursions abroad to only those who could afford to take a long vacation, and was also at times dangerous compared with modern travel.

Still, millions and millions of people made trips overseas and to foreign countries, for everything from business, to religion, to pleasure. From the dock to the destination, this is what traveling abroad in the 19th century was really like.

You had only one option for crossing the ocean

For those interested in crossing an ocean to experience what life was like on the other side, your options for traveling across were pretty limited. If you wanted to cross the Atlantic or the Pacific, you needed to travel by ship. Even that wasn't a reliable option for some years, as it was not until 1818 that the now famous Black Ball Line came into existence as the first regularly scheduled ocean liner. 

It was not until the late-1830s that the first passenger steam liners became popular, and two companies dominated the 1840s: Great Western Railway from Britain and the Cunard Line from America. The Great Western Railway Company had two steamships, the Great Western and the Great Britain, but they were not the most reliable. In contrast, the Cunard Line had four ships and was much more successful in the '40s. The Cunard faced off against the Collins Line in the 1850s, but by the 1860s, Great Western was in front, and they would remain there through the rest of the century.

By the last decades of the 19th century, luxury liners began to make their first appearances, making ocean travel elegant and classy. Chances are, if you wanted to cross the Atlantic in the 1800s, you probably rode on the Black Ball Line, Cunard Line, Collins Line, or Great Western Railway Line. These were primitive ships compared with today, but they were the only way to get across.

The middle class traveled, too

It might sound surprising, but travel abroad in the 19th century was actually pretty widespread and more affordable than you might think. Far from only being reserved for the richest and wealthiest members of society, according to the National Archives and Records Administration , more than half a million Americans had passports issued to them from 1810–1909. That doesn't even include the potentially thousands more passports that were issued by states prior to 1856. Passport holders from many walks of life, including people traveling for business, religion, visiting family members or friends, or just for pleasure.

Many middle-class households made the trip to foreign lands, and men were responsible for most of the overseas travel, but many were also accompanied by women, too. In addition, many ocean liners offered cheap fares in "Third Class," which was uncomfortable, but allowed the possibility to travel to new lands affordably. It was towards the end of the 19th century that the first cruise ships came into existence, and these were largely marketed to the wealthy and elite. 

Passports were optional

For people frequently traveling abroad today, one of their most prized and treasured possessions is undoubtedly their passport. Without your passport, it's nearly impossible to leave the country through an airport or on a commercial ship, and getting back home is even more tricky. By now, it's pretty much hardwired into most people that if you are even considering international travel, you need to get working on getting your passport up to date immediately.

Yet, in the 19th century, passports were essentially optional for most Americans. Even though the State Department issued more than half a million passports from 1810–1909, the only time they were actually required for travel was for a brief period immediately following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 (per the National Archives and Records Administration). Prior to 1856, individual states and judicial authorities were allowed to issue their own passports, but they were not legally required for entry into any U.S. port.

Another big difference between passports of today and passports of the 19th century is that back then the government issued them to groups rather than individuals. One male from the group would apply, and his application would provide information for all potential travelers joining him. It would not be until well into the 20th century that passports would become required for passage abroad, and by then travel was drastically different.

It could be dangerous

Even when traveling today, one of the most important things that people need to be wary of is their safety abroad. The last thing anyone wants is to have a disaster or fall victim to a crime when traveling, but unfortunately, in the 19th century, that could happen more than you think. Even the journey across the ocean was risky in and of itself. Compared with today, the ocean liners of the 19th century were nowhere near as reliable, and traveling on the open ocean could be harrowing.

This was before the days of radio communication and GPS, so if your ship or convoy got into trouble in the middle of the ocean, you had few prospects to signal for help or for survival. In addition, once you arrived in the country, you still had to be wary of unscrupulous locals looking to take advantage. According to the Baltic Journal of Health and Physical Activity , one of the most notoriously dangerous places for tourists was 1820s Italy. Bandits would rob tourists throughout the country, especially in rural areas.

Spain wasn't much better in the 1840s, with robbers extorting money through impromptu tolls and thieving. Even travel to the United States wasn't always safe, as train robbers made travel on the railways a dangerous excursion at times. Travel abroad could be great in the 1800s, but you also had to keep your guard up. 

Some traveled for health

Back in the 19th century, people traveled abroad for a litany of reasons. Some were emigrating away to a new country, others were visiting their homelands, and many traveled for business or to see acquaintances for the first time in decades. One of the most popular reasons to travel was also to improve one's health. Similar to people traveling to foreign countries now for either superior or cheaper medical services, many 19th-century tourists also had their eyes on bettering their health.

Throughout Europe (and Oceania), many places dubiously advertised themselves as providing medical cures to those with illnesses (via the Royal College of Physicians ). These ranged from gout to arthritis to just about anything you could be ailing from. Health resorts sprung up around the world catering to health tourists on vacation. Many places created pamphlets that they distributed to boast about the benefits of their resorts. 

Even royalty bought into the hype, and King Edward VII was known for traveling abroad to help with his illnesses. Some people also wrote guides to various health resorts, letting readers know where to go for which ailments. With the state of medical knowledge back then, it was unlikely most of these health resorts provided much of anything besides relaxation and good service, but that didn't stop untold amounts of tourists from trying them out. 

Coghlan's Guides

Though a staple of modern travel, even back in the 19th century people still relied on traveler's guides to help them navigate around while abroad. While today, people often look to sources like Lonely Planet or Frommers, those weren't options back then. However, people did have access to some reputable guides, most notably that of Francis Coghlan. "Coghlan's Guides for Travelers," as they were called, provided travel information for many areas throughout the world, primarily Europe. Tourists could pick up a copy of Coghlan's guides and get tons of valuable information about their new destination.

Coghlan supplied travelers with information on Italy, Germany, Paris, England, and many other countries. He published his guides during the mid-19th century, and they were read by countless individuals. According to an 1840 register from the Netherlands (via Google Books ), Coghlan also wrote maps as well as translations between German, French, and English, and already had 14 years of experience by then. Some of Coghlan's guides were illustrated, and they provided information on local areas that would be helpful for tourists, such as providing a French guide "explaining every form and expense from London to Paris."

Beware of war

Traveling overseas could definitely be an adventure in the 19th century, but you certainly had to be careful. Not only did you have to be wary of thieves and bandits in some places, but the threat of war was very real in many areas throughout the century. What's more, word traveled back then, but not nearly as fast as it does today, and travel also took an exceptional amount of time. That meant that you could take off when everything was hunky-dory, only to land in a foreign country in a state of war. 

Travelers to America in the early-1860s had to be mindful of the ongoing Civil War, which probably discouraged more than just a few people from visiting. In the early years of the century, parts of Europe were raging with the Napoleonic Wars, which surely caused a drop in tourist enthusiasm for many potential visitors. In the 1820s, anyone looking to visit the ruins of Ancient Greece first had to think twice about walking into a potential battlefield of the Greek Revolution. 

It's also likely riders of the Orient Express in the 1850s probably found the Ottoman Empire a bit less hospitable due to its fight with the Russians during the Crimean War . These are just a few of the battles people had to be cautious of, and there were countless more. War is never fun, and it's the last place you'd want to find yourself while on vacation. 

The World's Fairs

The World's Fairs are largely out of fashion now, but during the second half of the 19th century, they were all the rage. The fairs took place throughout the world, including in England, Australia, Tasmania, Guatemala, the United States, and other places. The fairs greatly promoted international travel, as people wanted to see what unique advances in science and technology each country could offer.

One of the first big world's fairs was Britain's Great Fair of 1851, and it attracted more than 6 million visitors from around the world. The fairs only became more popular as the century wore on, and more than 10 million people came to the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876. Booths at the Centennial Exhibition ranged from steam engines to mechanical calculators to art to much more.

Other important World's Fairs were the International Exposition of 1889, which saw Paris unveil the Eiffel Tower, and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which was held in Chicago, Illinois. Not all of the fairs made money, but the new audiences they brought were enough to keep them going year after year. Tourists kept visiting the World's Fairs well into the 20th century, and they still occur periodically today.

The Grand Tour

For the wealthy young men of Europe in the 19th century, one of the more insightful journeys they could take was known as the Grand Tour. It dates back to the 17th century and was still in vogue by the 1800s. The Grand Tour was not a formal expedition with a specific set of regulations and destinations but was an informal tour of Europe meant to broaden one's horizons through art, politics, and culture. 

Most Grand Tourers would start out in Britain, and make their way to Paris as the first stop. The first legs of the tour usually consisted of France and Italy, and later would also include the island of Sicily as well as Greece. Travel was not always easy or cheap, and this wasn't exactly a weekend trip, with some tours taking almost a decade. Railways came into vogue midway through the century, as most tourers rode on horseback and carriage for their journeys before then.

The Grand Tour was essentially reserved only for the truly wealthy and elite, and it was seen as very beneficial in creating a man of class who was knowledgeable about world affairs. Tutors helped guide many young men on their tours, and it wasn't until travel became more affordable that the Grand Tour as an aristocratic trip died out.

Thomas Cook & Son

Not only could people look at travel guides when they wanted help navigating their journeys abroad in the 19th century, but back then they even had a travel agency, too. The Thomas Cook and Son travel agency first opened their doors in the 19th century, after founder Thomas Cook began leading people on excursions throughout England in the 1840s. In the 1850s, Cook started to expand from just England into other countries in Europe, and the first international travel agency was born.

Cook opened a storefront in 1865, and the following year — after the Civil War had ended — Cook traveled to America on his company's inaugural tour across the Atlantic. Later, Cook would take people to Egypt and Palestine in the Middle East, and even distributed an early form of traveler's checks to his customers. Just prior to Cook's death, his son John Mason Cook took over the company, and it continued to grow throughout the century and into the 1900s.

Incredibly, Thomas Cook and Son managed to make it through the new millennium, finally ceasing operations in 2019 after more than 175 years in the business. Thomas Cook and Son wasn't an option for most people traveling in the 1800s, but for those who were lucky enough to afford it, it was surely a once in a lifetime experience.

Cruise to Alaska, anyone?

As incredible as it sounds, starting in the late-19th century, cruises to Alaska became available. According to the Alaska Journal of Commerce , beginning in 1875, the Oregon Steamship Company started offering cruise service to Alaska, but they soon found themselves with stiff competition. Hailing from San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company moved in on Oregon's turf in 1881. At first, taking an Alaskan cruise was only for the wealthy, and Pacific Coast specifically marketed their tours to "pleasure travelers." However, soon economy fairs became available, and tourism greatly increased.

Amazingly, cannons were used to announce the ship's arrival at port, and tourists found themselves looking at miles and miles of untouched wilderness. Within a few years, thousands were taking the Pacific Coast line annually at the cost of $15–$30. In the 1890s, Pacific Coast created a ship with a capacity of 250 rooms, but they began to face more competition as more companies entered the fray.

Passengers on the ship were occasionally witness to pretty interesting events, like when one of the ships was found to be smuggling illicit opium. By the mid-1890s, tourists were flocking to Alaska in even bigger numbers, but not so much on pleasure cruises. The Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of new visitors to Alaska, relegating pleasure tourism to second place. Alaskan cruise lines quickly recovered, and even today are some of the most popular destinations available.

Religious travel to the Middle East

Many people chose to travel in the 19th century for business and pleasure, but one of the biggest drivers of international tourism was also religion. Partly due to Thomas Cook and his new travel agency, many Christians began traveling to the Middle East to visit areas like Egypt and Palestine (via the University of York ). Cook's agency took thousands, and people found other means to get there, too. Even royalty found themselves visiting the area to tour.

In addition to Cook's tours and Christian pilgrimage to the Middle East, Muslims continued to make the annual Hajj to Mecca every year of the 19th century. The Hajj is a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that Muslims are to undertake every year if they are able. The Hajj began hundreds of years prior to the 1800s, and by then was already consisting of huge amounts of followers. According to Ohio State University , sometimes Ottoman Empire bands of up to 50,000 pilgrims traveled together on the Hajj to Mecca in the 1800s. 

Though at times European rulers who controlled territory along ancient Hajj viewed the pilgrimage as dangerous due to its potential to spread diseases like cholera, they also saw its utility and eventually began to embrace it. Some governments even helped subsidize the Hajj for some pilgrims. By the end of the 19th century, the Hajj was only more popular, and it continues through today. 

The Orient Express

For nearly a century, one of the most famous rail lines in the entire world was the now-legendary Orient Express. The Express was a luxury train that first began service in 1883. It was created by Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian with an eye for the future. The train began service in Paris, France, and traveled the length of continental Europe, reaching all the way to what was then Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire (modern Istanbul, Turkey).

The Orient Express defined luxury at the time, and passengers on board were in for some pretty nice treats, including exquisitely decorated interiors and excellent food. The trip took more than three days to accomplish and was not just used by commoners. Even kings, czars, and presidents rode on the Orient express during its heyday in the 19th century. In addition, secret agents also apparently used the express as a way to gather information and for convenient travel. The express lasted into the 20th century, finally closing its doors in 1977.

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19th Century

Travel in the 19th Century: Exploring the Modes and Methods of Transportation

Welcome to 19th Century , Stephen Grove’s blog dedicated to exploring the fascinating era of the 1800s. In this article, we delve into the captivating world of travel during this time, unveiling the various modes and methods of transportation that intrigued and shaped society throughout the century. Join us on this journey through time as we uncover the wonders of 19th-century travel.

Table of Contents

Traveling in the 19th Century: Exploring Transportation Methods of the Era

Traveling in the 19th Century : Exploring Transportation Methods of the Era

During the 19th century , traveling took on a whole new meaning as various transportation methods began to emerge. As industrialization and technological advancements gained momentum, the options for moving from one place to another expanded significantly.

Horse-drawn carriages were still commonly used for short-distance journeys, especially within cities. These elegant vehicles were often driven by skilled coachmen who navigated through bustling streets with finesse. However, for longer travels, more efficient alternatives were needed.

One of the most revolutionary developments was the steam-powered locomotive . This innovation introduced the world to railway travel , which quickly became a symbol of progress and connectivity. Railways enabled people and goods to be transported faster and farther than ever before, transforming both domestic and international travel.

Another significant advancement during this time was the steamship , which revolutionized long-distance travel across oceans and seas. Steamships were powered by steam engines and could carry large numbers of passengers and cargo. This new mode of transportation brought continents closer together and opened up opportunities for trade, exploration, and migration.

It is important to note that not all transportation methods of the era relied on steam power. Sailboats continued to play a crucial role, particularly for coastal navigation and trade. The wind-powered vessels were relied upon for their versatility and ability to navigate even the most challenging waterways.

Lastly, the advent of the bicycle in the late 19th century offered an affordable and accessible means of transportation for individuals. Although initially considered a novelty, bicycles quickly gained popularity as a practical mode of transport, especially in urban areas.

The 19th century witnessed significant advancements in transportation methods. From the elegance of horse-drawn carriages to the speed and efficiency of steam-powered locomotives and steamships, the era was defined by a newfound ability to connect with faraway places. Sailboats and bicycles also played important roles, offering alternative options for travel. The transportation methods of the 19th century laid the groundwork for the rapid advancements that would follow in the centuries to come.

Worst Places in the World to Travel

19th century portraits brought to life, what were the modes of transportation in the 1900s.

In the 19th century, modes of transportation varied greatly depending on the region and technological advancements of the time. However, some common modes of transportation during this period included:

1. Horse-drawn carriages: Carriages were commonly used for transportation, both for personal travel and public transportation within cities.

2. Steamboats: Steam-powered boats and steamships played a crucial role in transporting goods and people across rivers and lakes. They were particularly important for trade and connecting inland areas with coastal regions.

3. Railways: The development of railways was one of the major transportation innovations of the 19th century . Steam locomotives revolutionized long-distance travel, allowing people and goods to move rapidly between cities and regions. Railways also played a significant role in industrialization and the expansion of markets.

4. Canals: Canals were important waterways for transporting goods and connecting different regions. While canal transportation declined with the rise of railways, they were still used in specific areas.

5. Bicycles: Although not as prominent as other modes of transportation, bicycles gained popularity during the latter half of the 19th century, providing a relatively affordable means of personal transportation.

6. Horseback riding: Despite the emergence of new modes of transportation, horseback riding remained an essential means of transportation, particularly in rural areas or where roads were inaccessible.

Overall, the 19th century witnessed significant advancements in transportation technology, leading to increased mobility and facilitating economic growth and social change.

What were the means of transportation before the 1800s?

Before the 1800s , there were several means of transportation available. The most common mode of transportation was horse-drawn vehicles such as carriages and wagons. These vehicles were used for both short and long-distance travel, although they were relatively slow and could only cover a limited distance in a day.

Ships were another significant means of transportation during the 19th century. They were primarily used for long-distance travel across oceans and seas. Sail-powered ships were the primary mode of transportation until the early 19th century when steam-powered ships were developed, providing faster and more reliable travel.

Riverboats were commonly used for transportation along rivers in the 19th century. These boats were powered by steam engines and played a crucial role in connecting inland areas with major trading cities.

Canals were also an important transportation method during this time. Canals were constructed to connect rivers, lakes, and oceans, allowing goods and passengers to be transported efficiently. These canals were often used by barges pulled by horses, providing a slower but cost-effective mode of transportation.

Stagecoaches were widely used as a means of transportation for both passengers and mail delivery between towns and cities. These horse-drawn carriages were relatively fast compared to other modes of transportation and played a vital role in connecting different regions.

It is important to note that during this period, public transportation systems as we know them today were not widespread. Most transportation methods were privately owned and operated, and the development of railways, which revolutionized transport, did not occur until the mid-19th century.

What was the transportation revolution in the 19th century?

The transportation revolution in the 19th century refers to the significant advancements in transportation systems and infrastructure that took place during this period. It was a time of great innovation and progress, transforming the way people and goods were transported.

One major development was the growth of railroads , which had a profound impact on the economy and society. The construction of extensive railway networks connected different regions, allowing for faster and more efficient movement of goods and people. Railways facilitated the expansion of trade and industry, enabling the transportation of raw materials, finished products, and agricultural produce over long distances. They also contributed to urbanization, as cities grew around railway hubs.

Another important aspect of the transportation revolution was the advent of steamships . These vessels powered by steam engines replaced traditional sailing ships, enabling faster and more reliable transoceanic travel. Steamships played a crucial role in expanding global trade and facilitating the colonization and exploration of new territories. They also enhanced communication and cultural exchange between different nations and continents.

Additionally, the improvement of road infrastructure was a significant part of the transportation revolution. Macadamized roads, made of compacted layers of small stones, became more common, providing a smoother surface for horse-drawn carriages and later automobiles. The construction of canals, such as the Erie Canal in the United States, also played a crucial role in connecting inland regions and facilitating trade.

The transportation revolution of the 19th century had far-reaching effects on various aspects of society. It fostered economic growth, expanded markets, and spurred industrialization. It also led to the development of new job opportunities, particularly in the railway and shipping industries. The increased mobility of people led to the growth of tourism and transformed social dynamics as individuals could travel greater distances more easily.

The transportation revolution of the 19th century, marked by the growth of railways, steamships, and improved road infrastructure, revolutionized the way people and goods were transported. This period of innovation and progress had a profound impact on the economy, society, and global connections.

What was the extent of travel in the 1800s?

In the 19th century, travel underwent significant changes and developments.

During this time, the extent of travel expanded greatly due to advancements in transportation and infrastructure. The industrial revolution led to the development of steam-powered locomotives, which revolutionized long-distance travel. Railways were built across countries and continents, connecting previously isolated regions. This allowed people to travel further and faster than ever before.

Steamships also played a crucial role in expanding travel during the 19th century. These vessels enabled transoceanic travel and opened up new trade routes. Additionally, the invention of the telegraph facilitated communication between ships and ports, making sea travel safer and more efficient.

The expansion of travel in the 19th century was not limited to land and sea. Around the mid-century, the invention of the bicycle provided an affordable and accessible mode of transportation for short distances. This contributed to increased mobility for individuals in urban areas.

Furthermore, the 19th century saw the emergence of luxury passenger ships, catering to the growing demand for leisure travel. Companies like Cunard Line and White Star Line established regular transatlantic services, allowing people to travel comfortably and experience new cultures.

However, it’s important to note that the extent of travel in the 19th century varied depending on socioeconomic factors. While the middle and upper classes had greater access to transportation options, the working class and rural communities often had more limited travel opportunities.

The 19th century witnessed a significant expansion in travel thanks to advancements in transportation technology. Railways, steamships, bicycles, and luxury passenger ships all contributed to the increasing mobility of people during this time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What were the most common modes of transportation used by people in the 19th century.

During the 19th century, the most common modes of transportation used by people were primarily dependent on their location and socioeconomic status.

Horse-drawn vehicles such as carriages, wagons, and stagecoaches were widely used in both urban and rural areas. They were commonly employed for personal transportation, delivery services, and public transportation.

Railways became increasingly popular during this time period, revolutionizing transportation. Steam-powered locomotives were introduced, allowing for faster and more efficient transportation of goods and passengers. Railways connected major cities and towns, making long-distance travel much more accessible.

Ships and boats were essential for travel and trade, especially for crossing oceans and navigating rivers and lakes. Sailing ships were widely used for long-distance voyages, while steam-powered ships started to gain popularity towards the end of the century.

Bicycles began to gain popularity in the latter half of the 19th century, providing a more affordable and personal means of transportation for individuals. However, they were initially only accessible to the wealthier population due to their high cost.

It is important to note that the availability and usage of these modes of transportation varied greatly depending on factors such as geographic location, social class, and technological advancements.

How did advancements in transportation technology impact the way people traveled in the 19th century?

Advancements in transportation technology greatly impacted the way people traveled in the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in transportation, leading to faster, more efficient, and more accessible modes of travel.

Railways were perhaps the most transformative form of transportation during this time. The construction of railway networks across the United States and Europe allowed for the rapid movement of goods and people. Railways enabled individuals to travel long distances in a matter of hours, connecting rural areas to urban centers. This led to increased social and economic integration, as well as the growth of tourism and trade.

Steamships revolutionized long-distance travel across bodies of water. Powered by steam engines, these ships could traverse oceans with greater speed and reliability compared to traditional sailing vessels. The advent of steamships facilitated the movement of people and goods between continents, opening up new opportunities for exploration, trade, and colonization.

Horse-drawn carriages also played a significant role in the transportation landscape of the 19th century. Although slower and less efficient than railways and steamships, carriages provided a means of transportation within cities and towns. They were used for personal travel, transportation of goods, and as public transportation systems. Carriages were eventually replaced by horse-drawn trams and later by electric streetcars, further improving urban mobility.

With the development of canals and roads , transportation infrastructure improved significantly during this time period. Canals allowed for the efficient movement of goods and reduced transportation costs. Roads, although initially limited in quality, were gradually improved and expanded, making travel by carriage and stagecoach easier and more accessible.

Overall, advancements in transportation technology in the 19th century revolutionized the way people traveled. The introduction of railways, steamships, and improved road and canal systems opened up new opportunities for trade, exploration, and social mobility. These advancements contributed to the growth of industrialized societies and paved the way for further progress in transportation in the following centuries.

What were some of the challenges people faced while traveling in the 19th century and how did they overcome them?

During the 19th century, people faced several challenges while traveling. Some of these challenges included:

1. Poor transportation infrastructure: Roads were often poorly maintained, making travel slow and difficult. In remote areas, there might be no roads at all. To overcome this challenge, people relied on horses, carriages, and wagons. In urban areas, people used horse-drawn omnibuses and later, steam-powered trains.

2. Unpredictable weather conditions: Weather could greatly impact travel plans, especially in areas with harsh climates. Winter snowstorms and heavy rains made roads impassable. To overcome this challenge, travelers would plan their trips during more favorable weather conditions and seek shelter during storms.

3. Limited communication: Communication was slow and unreliable during the 19th century, making it difficult for travelers to relay information and stay connected. They had to rely on letters and post offices, which could be slow or unreliable. Some resort

The modes of transportation in the 19th century were vastly different from what we are accustomed to today . People during this era relied heavily on horse-drawn carriages and stagecoaches for land travel, while sailing ships dominated long-distance journeys across the seas . The advent of the railway system revolutionized travel, making it faster, safer, and more accessible to the masses. However, it was only towards the end of the century that steam-powered locomotives gained widespread popularity. These advancements in transportation not only facilitated trade and commerce but also ignited a sense of wanderlust among individuals, as they could explore new places and experience different cultures more easily . Despite the limitations and challenges faced in travel during the 19th century, it is undeniable that these pioneers laid the foundation for the modern transportation systems we enjoy today . Looking back on their perseverance and innovation, we can appreciate how far we have come and the opportunities that await us in the future.

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Could Southwest Airlines really say goodbye to open seating? What travelers should know

in the 1700's one could travel

Southwest Airlines is considering changing one of the things that sets it apart other carriers.

In a crowd of airlines where seat assignments are common, Southwest's open seating policy, where the passengers first to board get their first choice of seats, makes it unique. And the only major U.S. airline to offer open seating is considering whether to end its longtime open seating policy in favor of seat assignments.

Southwest Airlines President and CEO Bob Jordan told investors in an April 25 earnings call that the airline's staff is "evaluating options to enhance our customer experience as we study product preferences and expectations, including onboard seating and our cabin."

Also during the April 25 earnings call, Southwest announced it would end service at four airports and cut flights from two others, affecting a route out of Phoenix . Southwest passengers in Phoenix can also find out where Southwest ranked among the best airports of 2024 , and what's coming to the Phoenix airport in 2024, including a new Southwest concourse.

Southwest experimented with abandoning open seating in 2006, operating about 200 flights in San Diego where passengers were assigned seats. The airline ultimately kept open seating, but with a few tweaks.

Here's what Southwest Airlines passengers need to know about its open seating policy and whether it will end.

Is Southwest getting rid of open seating?

It's too early to say for sure, but Southwest Airlines executives publicly stated they're considering it.

The airline's staff is conducting a study on customer preference around its aircraft cabins and seating, evaluating whether consumer preferences have changed and how a shift away from open seating might benefit the company, Southwest spokesperson Laura Swift told The Arizona Republic.

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What does open seating mean on Southwest Airlines?

On a flight with open seating, passengers don't have assigned seats. Where they sit largely depends on their place in the boarding queue, as those who board the plane first (in boarding group A) get the first choice of seats. Those who are among the last to board generally have fewer options for seating, often limited to middle seats and less overhead space for carry-ons.

While Southwest's policy means they miss out on ancillary revenues from selling seat assignments, they do sell services that give passengers better boarding positions . These include EarlyBird Check-In, which ranges from $15 to $25 one-way and includes automatic check-in and a better boarding position and Upgraded Boarding, which starts at $30 one-way and offers the best available boarding position between A1 and A15 for flights departing within 24 hours.

Southwest generated $925 million from ancillary fees in 2023, up from $735 million in 2022, according to its 2023 annual report . However, the data for ancillary fees doesn't separate how much comes from EarlyBird Check-In and how much comes from charges unrelated to boarding upgrades, such as in-flight purchases.

How long has Southwest had open seating?

Southwest's open seating policy began with its first flight in 1971. At the time, it was first-come, first-serve.

This policy was reflective of the philosophy of the airline's late co-founder Herb Kelleher, who disliked class mentality and treated everyone he met as equal.

As the airline stated in a 50-year retrospective in 2021: "First-class cabins were nonexistent at Southwest. Nobody had priority in boarding: The first person in line was the first person on the plane. The people sitting up front weren’t enjoying gourmet meals and champagne. Everyone had the same snack and drink choices."

Travelers have a love-hate relationship with Southwest open seating

Despite fliers' love-hate relationship with Southwest's open seating policy, the airline's staff observed benefits from using it. It cited "numerous studies" that found open seating gets passengers on planes more quickly and efficiently, and faster boarding translated to more on-time departures and lower fares.

Southwest experimented with flights that abandoned open seating in 2006 in San Diego and San Antonio, and customer feedback showed they preferred the freedom to choose their seats.

But the experiment also revealed frustrations with the first-come, first-served aspect of open seating. A year later, Southwest began assigning letter and number combinations printed on boarding passes, so passengers could line up to board by boarding group and number, a process still used today.

Michael Salerno is an award-winning journalist who’s covered travel and tourism since 2014. His work as The Arizona Republic’s consumer travel reporter aims to help readers navigate the stresses of traveling and get the best value for their money on their vacations. He can be reached at   [email protected] . Follow him on X, formerly Twitter:   @salerno_phx .

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