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not in the minds of those whom history names as leaders of men, but in the collective understanding of the multitude. In their attitude toward the national need for travel facilities, during nearly all the big and important periods of the story, those famous ones have held aloof, remaining dull to opportunity and laggard in performance until the onrush of the nameless thousands swept them, like a torrent, into tardy action. Yet there were times when the multitude, as well as the head men of the country, could not understand its opportunities.
A somewhat comprehensive review is necessary-as far as the text of the record is concerned - to indicate the travel conditions existing during the first hundred and sixty years of the national history, together with the human experiences and social life which accompanied them. After those things have been considered the narrative need concern itself only with the comparatively short but important epoch between 1788-9 and 1868-9. During that interval of eighty years the transformation from archaic conditions to the vehicles we use to-day was brought about. Its chief features are better known than are those of the former era. The changes made within the last forty years have been, with few exceptions, refinements or better forms of what already existed; inevitable outgrowths of methods that preceded them. They do not call for extended comment. The pictorial part of the
review must necessarily be devoted principally to the j eighty years during which the revolution in methods of transportation occurred.
It is but reasonable to expect, in studying any epoch of human advancement, that certain things which took place during its continuance will stand out with prominence. That is true in this case, and we find in considering the development of travel in America and the relation of such development to the national progress that there were five events, or movements, within the years discussed, which occupy in its history positions very similar to those held by decisive battles in the story of a nation's political life. The five events were:
The governmental organization of the Ohio country and the Northwest Territory, and the beginning of a general migration to those regions, in 1787-1789;
A general public recognition of the value of steam as a means of propulsion, in 1807-1809;
The beginning of the railway building period, in 18281829;
Discovery of gold in the West and the general rush across the plains, in 1848-1849;
Completion of the first transcontinental railway, in 1869.
It is an interesting circumstance that these movements, each of which was largely due to the attitude and active participation of the whole population, followed one another at intervals of almost exactly twenty years. Whether or not they were merely a series of coincidences, or whether they had their source in some deeper condition that resulted in successive periodic eruptions of mental and physical energy affecting a whole people, may be left to experts in the psychology of a growing nation. However ably the phenomenon may be explained on the basis of chance, there will, perhaps, remain a lingering notion that it was not wholly due to accident.
The years that witnessed the slow transformation from primitive to modern conditions contained, of course, much more than is indicated by these five events. They are but later landmarks from which we may most easily take our bearings from time to time. Nor should we fail to remember that progress, in the upbuilding of our present system, did not take place with uniformity based on the lapse of years. It often happened — almost always happened, in fact — that some one section of the country was far ahead of the others in its travel facilities. This was due either to earlier settlement, disparity of population, inherited customs of the people or to the physical condition of the contrasted localities. The days of the stagecoach, for instance, persisted in the West in full vigor
for a generation after that vehicle had disappeared from the eastern states. Only within the last few years have conditions become substantially the same throughout the whole three million square miles of continental area. The story of our upward growth from the dugout canoe to the floating hotel of to-day, from the dog-sled and Conestoga wagon to the thunderbolts that we call express trains, wonderful as the progress has been, is not one which inspires us with pride alone. There are tragedies in it, blunders and blindness and mistakes innumerable. With few precedents to serve as guides, and sometimes with no precedents at all, the problem was not like the task of an architect who draws a plan and then builds his house accordingly. In this case there was no plan, for never at any stage of the task did there appear a man who was big enough both to picture the needs of the future and to compel the attention of the public mind to them. A few men, from time to time, had visions of those things that now exist in concrete form, and many others commanded the confidence of the people in matters of different nature, but it did not happen that those two qualities were ever combined in one early personality interested in the travel and transportation facilities of the nation,
The development of the system from its primitive conditions, as a consequence, was in large degree a history of feverish energy based upon incomplete experiment; the discarding of mistakes; shortsightedness; jealousy; and a lack of unity and coherence among the various parts of the system as they were at first created. When railroads came into use, for instance, the distance between New York and Washington was at first spanned by several companies, each of which adopted a track-width different from that of the others in order that the cars of one road could not run on the rails of its rivals. Some states would not permit railroads incorporated by them to cross their boundary lines into adjoining states.
Since this preliminary chapter is, in a sense, a series of suggestions designed as a glue to hold together all that comes after, it is desirable to refer to one other general aspect of the subject. Several times within the last hundred and twenty-five years the development of our travel system has been affected — usually to its serious disadvantage — by the operation of certain well recognized phases of American character. The traits that have had such an influence are the tendency of the public mind to concentrate all its attention on some one subject of spectacular or popular interest at the moment, to the exclusion of other matters often more deserving of thought; an intensity of public feeling which, when once aroused, fosters either a general optimism or corresponding pessimism; and the restlessness and desire for hurry at any cost that has been so prominent and so steadily increasing for about a century.
The exhibition of these traits has varied, and still does, in different periods, regions and cities. More than once it has happened that some circumstance or experience of easily recognized importance to the whole people has had a powerful effect, for a considerable time, in exciting one or more of those qualities. And whenever such an occurrence or condition of public affairs has coincided with a critical period in the history of our travel system the effect has always been noticeable, and often strange from our present viewpoint. Sometimes the public mind has been made incapable of seeing an opportunity which, if realized and grasped, would have saved many years.
Again, when under the sway of an era of happy-golucky optimism, the people have tolerated or accepted much discomfort and danger in going from place to place, only to alter their attitude, suddenly manifest their dis