Early 1800s, sea & river trade center around 6 large East Coast cities - New York, Philly, Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans & Charleston.

Baltimore third largest city in country 1820, 62,000 pop’n – clipper ships.

Merchant capitalists - John Jacob Astor.


1835, over half of all turnpikes abandoned.


War of 1812

British port blockade;

75 days cotton shipment MA to SC


regional political divisions;

question of constitutionality;


National Road - 1850 Illinois


1812, 100 total miles of canal; only three over two miles long.

Jefferson, "It is a splendid project & may be executed a century hence, but now construction on the Potomac canal has languished for many years because they can't raise $200,000!  And you talk of making a canal 350 miles long through a wilderness!  It is little short of madness."


DeWitt Clinton, 1817 bill Erie Canal,

"big ditch"

innovations -  machines for cutting trees, pulling out stumps.

Lockport Locks.

1825, Erie opened; 363 miles, then-longest in world;

"mixing of waters".

over half million dollars in tolls just in 1825,

repaid construction cost in seven years. 

After ten years, enlarged;


"canal fever".

Erie engineers;

1839 depression.

1840, 3,326 miles of canal.


John Fitch steam-powered boat NJ 1790s. 

Oliver Evans – high-pressure steam engines,

Robert Fulton - mechanical & civil engineer;

Systematic study, calculations, model-building;

Economic feasibility.

Symbolism – artist;

politics - influential friends & wealthy sponsors get monopoly on Hudson.

1807, "North River" Albany to NY 4 mph - over 150 miles, 5 cents a mile.

profit $16,000, 1808.

1803 Louisiana Purchase,

1815-1860 golden age of river steamboat;


Eastern steamboats long & narrow, deep & heavy hull, low-pressure steam engines; floating palaces, run by big business.

1817, 17 steamboats operating on western rivers; 1855, 727.

grain, fur, timber to east; settlers west. 

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), 1883 Life on the Mississippi;

Western boats broad & shallow, flat-bottomed, operate in 22 inches of water, run by individuals/small group; high-pressure steam engines.

"Western steamboats should be built so that when river is low, a crew can tap a keg of beer & run the boat along for four miles on the suds."

1840s boiler explosions.

"Talk about your Northern steamers, it don't need no spunk to navigate them waters.  You ain't bust a boiler for five years.   But I tell you, stranger, it takes a real man to ride one of these half alligator boats, head on a snag, high pressure, safety valve soldered down, 600 souls on board & in danger of going to the devil." 

1852 Congress Steam Boat Act – standards, inspection, regulatory agency.



Steamboats average 15 mph, railroads 30 mph;

1200 miles Pittsburgh to St Louis by river, 612 miles by rail.


1830 Baltimore & Ohio RR

Peter Cooper, "Tom Thumb". 

Pennsylvania coal centers;

1839 Philadelphia & Reading;

NJ political battle.  


1840, 3,328 miles RR built in US,

1850, 8,879 miles, passed Britain.

1860 over 30,000 miles, connections to Chicago & St. Louis.

Early US RRs narrow gauge - four feet, eight inches. 

1834, NJ Camden & Amboy RR, import "John Bull" from Stephenson.

over 100 locomotives from Britain 1840s.


imitating Britain’s wooden tracks topped with iron, mounted on stone blocks. 

new system, wooden ties on crushed stone roadbed,

British locomotives too heavy.




track location - cities want straight connections. 

small towns want stimulus to local trade. 

Farmers ambivalent. 

Political wrangling. 


US RRs sharper curves, steeper grades than British. 


1830s, begin building locomotives,

1840 ten different companies; only one-quarter of 500 locomotives imported.

1833 John Jervis- swivel truck, bogie truck;

1838 John Harrison - equalizer lever,

bigger boiler & cylinder – raise steam pressure to 130 psi. 

1850, standard US 4-4-0 pattern


"cow catcher"

lantern headlight

bell & steam whistle

passenger cars like stagecoaches;


pioneer modern American business organization - line & staff system.

logistical problems - stations, warehouses, repair shops, offices & roundhouses;

1850s, PA RR 4000 people on payroll;


NJ Camden & Amboy, 1855 killed 24;

seven different widths of track PA & Ohio alone.

1869 Central Pacific & Union Pacific RRs join  Promontory Point, Utah territory.  Golden spikes -first transcontinental RR;

development of national economy,

RR create demand for iron, steel & coal.

1858 George Pullman;

train vestibule.