Roads and Travel in Early America
Before1792 the roads of america were nothing more than crude dirt trails. Since the building and maintenance of roads was the responsibility of each individual township not much progress was made in the development of a national road system.
Travel was slow. It could take a full day to accomplish a simple distance of 10 to 15 miles.
Between 1847 and 1853 attempts were made to build roads out of wooden planks. Since the planks wore out in about 4 years the project was soon abandoned.
From 1792 to 1890 most major roads were toll roads. These roads were usually developed by private companies that charged tolls for access. Toll roads lost money and were for a time outlawed by the US government.
As late as 1901 there were only about 600 miles of hard surfaced roads in the US. Common surfaces were brick, concrete and stone covered with tar.
The first person to cross the US in an automobile was Dr. Nelson Jackson. He traveled from New York to San Francisco in 1903. It took 2 months and cost him $8000.
The introduction of Henry Ford's Model T in 1908 provided the pressure that got the Federal government involved in road development. Still, there was no real progress until the early 1920s.
The first attempt at constructing a transcontinental highway was started in about 1913. It was to start in SanFrancisco, end in New York and pass through about 350 cities along the way. It was called the Lincoln Highway. Parts of it still exist today.
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