The Growth of the American Economy: An Introduction to the Economic History of the United States

By Robert G. Albion; Harold F. Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
American Transportation Before the War Between the States

SEPARATION FROM ENGLAND radically changed the political and economic demands for transportation in the newly freed American states. Transatlantic commerce had been dominant, and maximum use had been made of the cheapest type of transportation then available--namely, by water, with the wind as motive power. Each colony had had its ports, either on the ocean or on navigable rivers, to and from which the long- haul foreign traffic was carried by economical sailing vessels. Land traffic to the hinterlands of the many ports had till then been confined to narrow zones because of the low density of population in those parts of the country and the great expense of land transportation.

After the Revolution both political and economic factors prompted an interest in the promotion of freer intercommunication between the former Colonies. Such connections would further political unity, and would make the varied resources of the several states accessible for the benefit of all. In addition, there was the urge to make available the wealth of the Western areas of the North American continent. A unified system of transportation required increased use of north-and-south coastwise water routes to take advantage of the economical water transportation and indicated the need for parallel inland highways wherever topography did not permit the use of water routes. Contact with the West called for greatly increased use of land transportation, except in the areas adjacent to the larger rivers flowing into the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico.


Characteristics of Early Land and Water Transportation

It is hard to realize today the limitations that a forced dependence upon land transportation for interior communications imposed on the new republic. Pack animals have a very limited capacity, and hence this mode of transportation, which was used in the trans-Appalachian traffic, was expensive. It has been estimated that on level ground a horse can move but one-tenth as much by pack as by wagon. Nevertheless, pack animals were used extensively because the improvement of roads required resources that, except for a few key routes, could not be

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