The Impact of Railroads in America

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Nineteenth century America was a time of rapid growth and expansion. The movement of settlers further and further west accompanied by technological advances led to the major growth of cities and industries across the American frontier. However, it was the major innovations of transportation that had the most significant impact on the expansion of Midwestern and western America. The construction of canals and roads led to the increase in the use of stagecoaches, steamboats, and ultimately railroads. Railroads became extremely popular in America in the 1800’s. The railroad industry itself began to boom; it was supported by its reputation for speed and efficiency. But, along with the booming industry of railroads came the strong debate that plagued Congress for years: should railroads be constructed as the major source of transportation over roads and canals? Although roads had become increasingly popular, the railroad industry was also viewed as being monopolistic, undemocratic, and unsafe. Despite the fact that railroads were sometimes monopolistic and undemocratic in that respect, railroads proved to be most vital in the expansion of the Midwest and western America. It was the use of railroads over all other methods of transportation that aided in communication, the transportation of goods, and ultimately decreased the costs of transportation, all of which contributed to the expansion of the American frontier. Before the rise of railroads, stagecoaches and steamboats dominated the transportation industry. Stagecoaches were an effective means of transportation, but in the early 1800’s they were accompanied by Robert Fulton’s invention--the steamboat. The steamboat was a “combined river and overland transport system” that proved to be effective in transporting goods and people. These locomotives were able to travel the rivers from the north and provide military posts and plantations with goods in the south while transporting passengers and immigrants. Prior to...
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