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A HISTORY OF
A SUMMARY OF THE GENERAL FEATURES OF THE SUBJECT
AND AN INDICATION OF THE METHODS AND PURPOSES
HE story of the upbuilding of our present methods of
travel and transportation is not a record of the de- velopment of a system for the carrying of commodities.
It is a history of the devices originated by the people primarily for their personal use and comfort in moving from place to place. Only after the early population had occupied some new region by means of the crude and primitive travel methods then in use were there any commodities to move or men to move them, and not until then, after each successive surge of population into fresh territory, were existing methods of human travel expanded, or new ones brought into being, for the purpose of also transporting the material wealth those pioneers had created.
The pioneer, no matter of what date or locality, was always a traveller before he was a producer or shipper of goods, and the common experience of the people, gained on their journeys, was - save in one instance - the basis on which future permanent routes and methods of travel were planned and created. The one exception to this manner of evolution lay in the memorable demonstration that steam could be successfully used for the propulsion of travel vehicles. It was an instance wherein genius and reason overshadowed experience and precedent.
America has witnessed the introduction and development of much that has been permanently adopted into the travel methods of the world. That this is so is not, in all probability, due chiefly to the genius or inventive ability of the nation as a first cause. Its underlying reason, rather, can be traced to the extent and configuration of the country, to the period during which its population assumed goodly size, to certain political events of its history, and to a universal restlessness and desire for haste which for a long time has been so characteristic of its people.
For nearly a hundred and fifty years from the establishment of the first permanent settlements along the Atlantic coast there were practically no improvements made in the manner of moving over the face of the land. Almost all progress, in that respect, was confined to improving Indian trails which led into the wilderness, joining a newly-established farm or settlement to its neighbors, or turning old pack-horse paths into crude wagon roads as the settlements gradually grew into towns. During all that time the trend of travel, generally speaking, was north and south. True, there were a few adventurous spirits who plunged into the unknown and sometimes came back, bringing tales of distances beyond comprehension, of never-ending woods, of unknown mountains, rivers or lakes. But that was not travel. That was adventure, hunting or sheer folly, and the population, clinging to its little strip of a hundred and fifty miles in width
along the coast, never seriously considered giving battle to the vastness which brooded beside them.
Yet those early Americans were commencing the conquest, though they did not know it. Each new farm established a little farther on, each new child born, helped toward the far-distant victory; but their chief contribution to the contest in which nature was at last to be defeated by man's demand for movement in speed and comfort lay in a gradual change in the character of the people themselves. As generation after generation slipped by, the separation of related families and an increase in the petty business affairs of the population multiplied the small journeys between different settlements and colonies. The time of the individual man became more valuable. The restlessness and hurry of the modern American, his desire for speed and a short-cut to his destination, found its small beginning. Gradually, also, the attitude of the people toward the wilderness changed. It still remained—as do its present fragments—a thing of awe, but it was better comprehended and less feared.
Then was introduced into the problem a political element which had no visible relevancy at the time, but whose relationship to the subject, from this latter-day standpoint, is apparent. The revolution against England, the confederation of the colonies that followed its success, and the acquirement of the immense region known as the Louisiana Purchase gave to the people a lesson in the necessity of united action, a better understanding of the common welfare, and a gradual realization that they had, for a task, the subjugation of a continent.
The period during and immediately following these political incidents in America marked the beginning of a new social, intellectual and industrial era throughout the civilized world. All that had happened theretofore, for a long time, was practically the last chapter of the Middle Ages. Modern life as we know it, and the use of human creative energy in a way designed to transform
la Legno 1.-Indians fashioning log canoes by means of fire and tools. Craft of this sort were the first vehicles used by English speaking
white colonists in America.
the circumstances of mankind, began then. It was the time of the great awakening; the birth of mechanical power; the beginning of an epoch whose unbelievable achievements would drive the mind to madness were they not; happily, so commonplace. We are scarcely human beings any more — merely spectators of a drama of development which has no visible end, and whose actors make up the plot as they go along.
From about 1785 until 1870 old methods and conditions went to the scrap heap, and the world, as we bump against it, was built all over again. And in no other one feature of man's affairs, perhaps, were greater or more extraordinary changes made than in his manner of travelling. In the revolution thus accomplished America, for obvious reasons, took a part that was very prominent. There were then but two continents — Europe and America — whose peoples found within themselves the necessity of change. Africa, Australia, South America and Asia were not ready. They were to escape the period of experiment and to install, at a later day, the tested and perfected systems brought to completion elsewhere. America had an advantage over Europe in that her problem was a larger one, and presented conditions more primitive and complex. Greater necessities resulted in bigger performances. To this may also be added the fact that Europe presented, to the impending evolution in travel, a multitude of comparatively small states whose size, peculiar geographical relationships and political quarrels definitely prevented the adoption of a uniform, continental system of communication development. America, on the contrary, offered in her compact mass and shape an ideal opportunity for the planning and methodical creation of such a system. But she did not see the chance, and threw it away. Twice — first when steamboats came into general use, and again in the early years of railroad building — those who had the shaping of public affairs failed to see the portent of what was taking place, and the petty jealousies of individual states were permitted to warp and disfigure the results of those vital years. Viewing the history of the whole American period under discussion from about 1630 until 1870—it seems as though the clearest perception of the significance of events and of public necessity and intent was to be found most quickly,