Technology Advances in Antebellum America

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  • Topic: United States, Electrical telegraph, Pony Express
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  • Published : February 3, 2013
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Technology Advances in Antebellum America
The Era of 1800 to 1860 proved to be some of the most technologically advanced years of the 19th century. This Era saw a rapid technological change in communications, travel. Through these advances helped the United States grow and prosper. Communication was now possible from the most populated to the least populated areas of the country. Telegraph wires stretched from north to south and east to west. The introduction of the Pony Express allowed the physical movement of mail from the east to as far west as California and as far North as Wyoming. Transportation was at its heyday, via water, rail or land, people moved across the country faster than any other time in history. This era showed the citizens that any dream was possible. In just a matter of a few decades, the entire landscape of the United States changed. The most significant advancement in this period was in travel. What the United States needed was improvement on its way of travel. In John Stover’s American Railroads “Both Albert Gallatin in 1808 and John Calhoun a decade later stressed canals as well as improved roads, in their plans for internal improvements. Canals are built slowly, and in 1817 when Calhoun made his pleas for a perfect system of transportation only about 100 miles of canals had been constructed “(p5) By the 1830 is was estimated that 1300 miles of inland waterways were already in use and another eight to ten thousand miles were projected. The country was going from a turnpike era to the Canal Age. In October of 1825 the 364 mile Erie Canal opened. It was then possible to travel from New York to Chicago, and from Chicago all points west. In Floating West, Bourne extols the virtue of canals. Basically, it is a simplistic way of moving people, raw and finished goods from one point to another. A canal is basically a ditch, filled with water, with towpaths on both banks. A flat bottom barge was loaded and tow lines were attached to mules who literally towed the barge the length of the canal. “From the first rumors of its success, the Erie Canal and its branches stimulated dreams of facilitated agricultural transportation and invigorated water-powered industry in other regions” (Bourne, p191) Canal fever had hit the nation! In a half of a century America went canal crazy and a network of four thousand miles of artificial waterways were built in the eastern half of the country and provided a safe, adequate and reasonably cheap system of transportation. The canals linked remote areas to cities as well as cities with thriving business to remote areas so that raw materials as well as finished goods could be purchased. Water transportation was a way of American life. “The most successful canal project in American history, the Erie Canal (1825) connected western New York and the Great Lakes to New England allowing transport of raw materials and agricultural products from the Midwest to the American coast and thence to the more remote European markets. (Volo, p305) Once the canals connected many smaller cities to major cities, and Robert Fulton’s invention of the steam engine and the introduction of the steam powered boat brought the use of water and waterways to a prominent way to travel and move goods. The invention of the steam engine brought the introduction of the paddlewheel boat, ironically it was just as the name implies, a boat fitted with paddles which were used to propel the boat. Paddlewheel boats became a common means of transportation. One major innovation of the steam engine was that it allowed a boat to go upstream thus allowing a two way commute. Prior to the steam engine, a barge loaded with goods could float downstream but there was no way to accomplish the return trip upstream. By 1816, river steamers were journeying along the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. “During the 1820’sand 1830’s passages of the Mississippi River by steamboats increased from 20...
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