As you know, the roads that took settlers west were poor. During the early years of the 1800s better roads were built. As time went by, however, more people wanted to travel west by water. Traveling by water was faster, easier, and cheaper than the overland routes, especially those that crossed the Appalachian Mountains. The problems was that most rivers in the United States flowed north or south, and people wanted to move east and west. Because of this, canals were built to connect natural waterways. Canals are man-made waterways.
The most famous canal was the Erie Canal of New York State. When it was completed in 1825 the Erie Canal ran over 350 miles from Albany to Buffalo. It connected the Great Lakes and the Hudson River. Once the canal was completed, goods and passengers could travel from New York City to the lands around the Great Lakes entirely by water! Farm products and lumber from the Great Lakes could be transported to markets along the Atlantic Coast quickly and cheaply.
The Erie Canal was perhaps the most famous canal, but it was not the only canal. In the first half of the 1800s. The period from 1820 to 1850 has been called the Age of Canals. Many canals were constructed in the Northeast and the new states around the Great Lakes.
Canal boats were pulled by long ropes attached to horses or mules walking along a towpath next to the canal. The boats moved very slowly. Some Americans began to look for new ways to improve travel by water.
Some people thought that the steam engine, invented by James Watt in England, could be used to power a boat. The first successful steamboat in America was built by Robert Fulton. Fulton built a boat with paddle wheels on each side. He connected a steam engine to the paddle wheels. In 1807, Fulton was ready to try his boat, the Clermont, on a trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany.
There were many who felt the boat would not run. They felt
that a boat with a heavy iron engine would sink. But the Clermont
made the trip successfully. It averaged about five miles an hour!
The age of steamboats had arrived. Soon, steamboats were used
on rivers all over the young nation.
The first successful steam locomotive was invented in England in 1825. The first successful steam locomotive in the United States was developed by Peter Cooper in 1830. Soon, railroads were being built throughout the young nation.
Railroads had several advantages over canals. They were faster and could transport more goods and heavier loads. The train tracks could be laid almost anywhere. Lastly, they could be used year round. The water in canals froze during the winter. Because of these advantages, the widespread use of railroads brought the canal era to an end.
By the middle 1800s people and goods could travel much more quickly, but what about messages? Even with the railroads, it would still take several days for a letter to travel from the east coast to the Mississippi. A faster method of communication was needed.
In 1844 an American, Samuel Morse, found a better way. Morse used electricity to send messages over a wire. His invention was called the telegraph. It used a code called Morse Code that was based a series of dots and dashes. Different combinations of dots and dashes represented different letters.
The telegraph revolutionized communication. Messages that had once taken weeks or even months to be delivered could be flashed across the nation in a matter of minutes! For the first time, newspapers could report events from other parts of the country when they were actually news! The telegraph brought people on opposite sides of the continent into much closer contact.