Before the Industrial Revolution, there was a time lag in almost everything that took place in the United States. It took weeks and sometimes months just to send a letter or pass information. It took months to send packages or goods across the country. Everything happened at a glacial pace. The Transportation Revolution changed all of that.
- River Traffic
That all changed in 1817. In 1817, Congress authorized the construction of the National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road. This road extended from Maryland to the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia. This was the first road to cross the Appalachian Mountains into the territory known as the Old Northwest. The National Road was the largest road-building project to occur before the 20th century, and it was a route of crushed stone. Although this is not as advanced as roads later became, it was a huge improvement! Crushed stone was much easier to travel over. It would not get muddy or flood. Along withthe National Road, states chartered turnpikes, or toll roads. These roads not only provided easier and quicker travel, but also collected revenue for the states. Roads made transportation by wagon much faster than it was before.
With the Transportation Revolution came keelboats. Keelboats were built around a rigid timber in the middle with sails; they were built to go upstream. You could also pole or row them upstream if there was no wind. This improved transportation by river because flatboats could quickly transport downstream, and keelboats could quickly transport upstream.
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the steam engine became widely popular. In 1787, John Fitch demonstrated the first steamboat, which had twelve paddles and was propelled by a steam engine. From 1787 to the 1830s, steamboats were improved. In 1787, James Rumsey created the world’s first boat moved by jet propulsion. In 1804, John Stevens built a steamboat with a new high-pressure steam engine. Countless people attempted to improve steamboats so that they could carry passengers and cargo. Robert Fulton was the first to accomplish this task. By purchasing a steam engine built by James Watt, he was able to use the engine to power a 133-foot steamboat, the Clermont. In 1807, Robert Fulton’s boat made a journey from New York City to Albany.