In the early part of the 19th century (the 1800s), there were no trains. Most people got
around by sitting in a very uncomfortable wagon pulled by horses. The seats were made of hard
wood and these carriages did not have shock absorbers. They felt every single bump on the dirt
or cobblestone road. Some roads were called "corduroy" and were made by laying split logs across
the path and covering them with hard packed dirt or clay. 1
Travellers from New York City to Philadelphia, PA had to endure hardships along the way. This
trip today by car would take about 90 minutes. But in the early part of the 1800s, the first
thing these travellers had to do was ride in a windy, dusty, uncomfortable carriage. They went
as far as the harbor where they boarded a ferry boat. This is assuming that it wasn't winter
(the water might be a bit frozen). Once across the harbor, they got into another carriage for
the trip through New Jersey. By then, everyone in the traveling party was quite exhausted and
hungry. They probably stayed overnight in New Jersey before boarding yet another boat to cross
the Delaware River into Philadelphia, PA. This trip took 2 days. 2
Hard Travelin' 6
Although the need for a faster, more economic way of traveling was recognized, the technology just wasn't there. No one had yet invented the internal combustion engine, gasoline or using electricity for power. In England, several men were experimenting with external steam-powered combustion engines to move cars along a rail made of wood. Although they could get it moving, sometimes sparks would fly out and the tracks would catch on fire.
"Nothing else has so fundamentally influenced the modern development of California. Our cities, our industries, the crops we grow, even our political institutions, have been shaped by the existence of railroads. They symbolize the best and worst of 19th-century dynamism, and represent the brightest hope for efficient transportation in the future." 5
This is the story of the building of the first transcontinental railroad in America.
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