What Were Some Types of Transportation in the 1800s?

GaryAlvis/Vetta/Getty Images

Transportation in the early 1800s was primarily by horse and sail, but the development and refinement of the steam engine spurred the development of rail and river transportation. Horses and horse-drawn conveyances remained the primary method of transportation through most of the century, at least for local travel. Toward the end of the 1800s, the automobile came into existence, although most 19th-century designs saw very limited adoption.

Before the widespread use of the steam engine, travel by water had to take advantage of wind, currents or manpower for propulsion. Much of the river travel in this period was one-way, as a keelboat or raft could transport goods downstream easily, but upstream travel was arduous. When goods needed to travel against the current of a river, they typically traveled over land. Steamboats allowed vessels to travel against the current, creating the first two-way river-transportation systems.

Railroads proved to be an important transportation innovation in the 1800s, due to their ability to transport large quantities of people and goods at relatively high speeds. Rail travel has the advantage of working year-round, where boat travel can be difficult in northern climes during the winter. Railroads also served as a communication lifeline, as telegraph wires often accompanied railroad tracks as they spread across the country.