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The Effect Of Steam Railroads On Life In 19th Century America

3354 words - 13 pages

The Effect of Steam Railroads on Life in 19th Century America Today in the 20th century, we Americans, think very little of our ability to move almost effortlessly from one place to another in America. This was far from the case in early 19th century America. The introduction of the Steam Railroad was the single most important technological change in 19th century America and would forever drastically change the American experience economically, socially and geographically.Credit for invention of the practical Steam Railroad is generally given to George Stevenson of England in 1829. Stevenson is also claimed to be responsible for the too narrow, track gauge standard of 4'8 ½ " which was the distance between the wheels of a manure cart. (Martin 12) Stevenson's Railroad was originally used in the mining business in New Castle England to move coal in the yards and mines. (Jensen 13) The fist commercial non-experimental steam railroad in America was operated by the Delaware Hudson Canal Company. The locomotive was named the Stourbridge Lion weighing seven tons and was built in England by Stevenson. On its maiden trip in August of 1829 over the 16 miles of track that had been laid, it was discovered that the engine was too heavy for the timber viaducts that sagged under its weight. The owners feared they would loose their investment and stored the Stourbridge Lion and left it there permanently (Withuhn 8) Nineteenth century America had a number of less successful modes of transportation in use before the invention of the Steam Railroad. Turnpikes were toll financed artificial roads that had a 5% grade and were ditched on both sides and crowned in the center for drainage. The majority of turnpikes radiated from eastern cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and New York and connected other surrounding well-populated areas.In 1811, the Federal Government decided to start construction of the National Road also known as the Cumberland Road. It would stretch from Cumberland Maryland on the Potomac River to Wheeling on the Ohio River. Groups of eager immigrants could then float all the way to New Orleans if they wished. The National Road encouraged some of the earlier settlements in the Old Northwest areas of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. However, the National Road was not profitable due to cost over runs and low traffic volume. This was a common problem with most turnpikes. (Martin 8) Another somewhat less successful transportation competitor to the steam railroad was the artificial canal system. At the time most were built, canals were the only alternative to the high cost of turnpike transportation. The Erie Canal was one of the more successful canal endeavors. The Erie was the longest canal in the world at its time of construction in 1816-1825 and stretched from Albany New York up the Mohawk River valley through the Appalachian Mountains to Lake Erie at Buffalo New York. The Erie was highly successful and led to large numbers of...

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