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Modern Breakthroughs in Transportation: A Brief History

In your mind's eye, transport yourself back in time historically. You are now in mid nineteenth century America. You are a hunter, living far from the city and you know little of the outside world. You can't afford a horse, so you travel by foot or canoe. Occasionally travellers move through your town transporting goods by mule from city to city. One of them passes through regularly. Over a drink, he relates stories of his travels across America.

He tells you of the steam boats with huge rotating wheels that grace the Mississippi, and of the horse drawn carriage called a stage coach that transports the fancy folks in the towns. He explains that the roads turn from dirt to gravel and stone as you get closer to the cities and that when they do, he sometimes has to pay to get through barriers that have been built, called turnpikes. He tells you, too, of manmade, poker-straight rivers, called canals that rich men, now, use to transfer goods on long, flat boats called barges.

As he does so, he looks mournfully at his mule, "A horse can drag a heck of a lot more goods over water than it can carry on its back," he sighs. Lastly, he tells you of a giant, manmade, steel dragon that travels on tracks, devouring coal and hissing out billowing smoke across the land. People use it to travel from city to city, he says. "It is called a locomotive." You smile as he tips his hat and heads on out, to return to the trial, no doubt. He'll return some day to tell more of his tall stories, of course. Quite a yarn spinner, he is, too, but of course you're no fool. You don't believe a word of it.

In the mid-nineteenth century period, described above, most Americans travelled primarily by horseback. The steam train had only just been invented and routes were available only between major cities. Due to travel limitations, the population in the West was sparse and East coast cities had few road links.This was all to change with a revolutionary step in the history of transportation, notably the invention and popularization of the motor car.

Distances travelled by horseback had been limited but the motor car enabled the general public to travel extended distances, fast. The twentieth century heralded a rose tinted period when travel by stagecoach, steamboat, railroad and automobile all became affordable to the man in the street. To say that this changed the face of society is an understatement. Notably, the West of the US fast became populated. The new heightened mobility was to give people unprecedented control over where they lived, worked and played. The world was never to be the same again.

Six thousand years ago, man first walked. Since this first form of transportation, a steady stream of innovative technical developments, have impacted on human mobility. Progress, at first, though, was slow. Horses and camels, eventually used for transport, were not domesticated until several thousand years BC. Further, it was not then till 3500 BC that the wheel was invented in the area we now call Iraq, leading on to the development of the chariot, the first carriage type transport, in Mesopotamia in around about 3000 BC.

In more modern history, the horse drawn carriage era began in Europe in the seventeenth century, becoming more pronounced in the nineteenth century, as roads improved. The mid nineteenth to the present has seen unprecedented advancement in transportation, from a world with no motor car to one where supersonic flight and landings on the moon were possible.


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