Hamiltons Plan to Fix the US Economy

The 1814 invention of the steam locomotive did not affect the United States for at least twenty years. Nevertheless, other transportation developments; especially canals, steamboats and turnpikes and other roads; changed the way people and goods were carried around the nation. Canals, steamboats and improved roads greatly reduced the time and expense of travel and transport. These new means of transportation helped improve travel conditions for people and goods between different regions of the country, especially between East and West.

The first major canal project, the Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts, was initiated in 1793, and was completed in 1802. The Santee Canal, connecting Charleston, South Carolina to the Santee River, was completed in 1802; making transportation between Charleston and its rural surroundings much easier. Construction on the Erie Canal, the most famous American canal project, began in 1817; and was completed in eight years.

In 1807, Robert Fulton built the first successful steamboat, the "Clermont." On August 11, 1807, it traveled on the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in 32 hours. A great success, the "Clermont" began commercial trips up and down the Hudson in the autumn of 1807. In 1811, Fulton's steamboat, the "New Orleans," was traveling between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and New Orleans, Louisiana. Steamboats were cheaper and faster than any other form of transportation available for travel within the country. By 1820, they had reduced the costs of transportation on many Western streams by 60-80%. This technology contributed to the development of river cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri and New Orleans, Louisiana.

In the Northeastern states, one of the most important transportation developments was the construction of turnpikes. These were roads with hard surfaces; built from macadam, stones, soil or planks. They were constructed by private firms, which collected tolls. The Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike in Pennsylvania was completed in 1794. In the next 25 years or so, thousands of miles of turnpike were built, mostly in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions. The turnpikes helped link East and West; facilitating the transportation of agricultural goods to the East, and manufactured goods to the West. Nevertheless, the tolls on these roads made both travel and freight transportation expensive.

The federal government began constructing a public road in 1811. Called the National Road or the Cumberland Road, it was designed to join the East with the Northwest Territory. The first section of the road was opened in 1818, leading from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia). The road was later extended until it reached Vandalia, Illinois; 834 miles away from Cumberland. Because it was both convenient and free, the National Road became one of the major routes for both commerce between East and West and migration to the West.