Walking was the main method of transportation until humans domesticated, or tamed, animals. Camels, horses, and cattle then carried goods and people. More than 5,000 years ago people invented the wheel. This allowed animals to pull carts. Ancient peoples also traveled by water, at first with simple dugout canoes and rafts.
The Persians built a system of roads in the 500s bce. The ancient Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese also built roads. By the 200s ce the Romans had built roads across Europe.
Transportation by water expanded in the Middle Ages (500–1500 ce). New ships were built with multiple sails. They were able to travel farther and faster than earlier ships that were powered by rowing. Improvements in navigation made it possible to sail farther from land. Voyages of discovery in the 1400s and 1500s opened up trade routes between distant points.
The invention of the steam engine in the 1700s was an important event in transportation history. Steam-powered boats could easily travel upriver. Steam-powered ships could cross oceans without wind. On land, inventors used steam engines to power locomotives. This led to the growth of railroads. By 1869 a railroad ran across the United States, and steamships regularly crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Trips that had taken weeks now took days.
Builders of canals made some ocean trips much shorter. The Suez Canal in Egypt shortened the trip between Europe and Asia. The Panama Canal in Panama shortened the trip between the East and West coasts of North America.
The late 1800s saw the first successful bicycles and automobiles. They made quick and easy transportation available to more people than ever before. People who bought cars demanded more and better roads.
In 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the world’s first airplane. The invention of the jet engine in the 1940s made air travel the fastest transportation in history.
Advances in transportation have led to problems, however. Cars and trucks cause traffic jams, accidents, and air pollution. These vehicles also use oil for fuel. The supply of oil is limited and controlled by a few countries. To ease crowded roads, governments have worked to improve public transportation. To fight pollution, scientists are developing vehicles that run on different types of fuel.