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The need for railroad expansion became absolute owing to a series of economic and developmental changes that took place right around the time when its adoption began.
The early nineteenth century was characterized by some primitive transportation methods. Most people relied on water, but even this mode had its dangers. Internal movement took place through the use of stagecoaches and wagons. Since roads were poorly developed, travelers were quite uncomfortable when moving from east to west or vice versa. It took them too long to get to their destinations as these methods were quite slow.
Between 1800 and 1820, the US experienced a boom in the construction of internal roads known as turnpikes. This started in Philadelphia and spread to other areas. A number of highways were prevalent in different parts of the country. However, the turnpikes still had a number of inefficiencies.
They could transport heavy goods across the mainland. Furthermore, they required high levels of maintenance, which were too expensive for federal states (Stover 179). Such flaws necessitated the consideration of other options such as railroad.
The impracticalities of the turnpikes in transportation of bulky goods and their poor maintenance led many businessmen to turn to water transport for a solution to their problem. Steamboats were the chosen tool for movement of people and goods. These were chosen, in 1807, because they were commercially feasible and their speeds exceeded road transportation by far.
The steamboat could cover five miles per hour; the vessels connected the West and South. Their owners even introduced luxury steam boats to increase their attractiveness and marketability. The problem with steam boats was their reliance on furnaces.
Sometimes these would burn flammable cargo and lead to the death of passengers or loss of freight. Boilers were another risk that came with the use of steamboats. These components caused explosions and sometimes death. Clearly, a less dangerous mode of transportation was needed.
The introduction of the canal also went hand in hand with further expansion of steam vessels. Canals became prominent in the northeastern part of the country. The first canal reduced the cost of transportation of goods from $100 to approximately $5, in 1825. Furthermore transportation time reduced by about 15 days.
The gainful results from the New York-sponsored canal led to a growth in canal construction in different parts of the country. By 1840, the country could now boast of about 3,000 miles worth of waterways. However, the major problem with these canals was they were quite expensive to construct. Some canals cost approximately $ 25,000 or $80,000 per mile. The 3000 miles of canals built by this year had cost the states about $125 million.
Federal states ran out of funds to continue their development or expansion. The financial crisis of 1830 worsened the situation owing to the frequent need to repair and maintain locks, dikes and other components of the canals. As such, there was a need for a better method of transport; railroads were the easiest option.
Besides these transport-related needs, railroad became an absolute owing to some political and economic developments that occurred a few years prior to its adoption. The first was the Louisiana Purchase which took place in 1803. This purchase increased the size of the United States by 568 million acres, effectively amounting to 100% of the previous range.
The war of 1812 highlighted the need for unity between the states through superior transport and communication between different inland regions. Additional, a migration of people towards the west necessitated better connection of people between the west and the rest of the country.
Trains or rail transport was superior to all the above-mentioned methods because it was the fastest at the time. A steamboat could only cover a quarter of the speeds that trains provided; stagecoaches could only handle half that speed.
Additionally, railroad transport was more reliable than the rest; it did not blow up or freeze during the winter. Aside from that, investors did not have to spend so much time to build it. Businessmen could transport more cargo than they would have achieved through the other methods.
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Financing of the railroads
Most railroads were financed by private investors rather than federal state governments. This explains why it took so long to expand them across the nation. Since local capital was a problem, the Americans tapped into the European capital market by offering bonds. European investors preferred bonds over stocks because of the perceived security of that investment.
However, because these investors were in a distant location, the US required middlemen who came in the form of investment banks. Some of them went directly to Europe to look for funds. This was the major trend between the 1820s and 1840s. However, after a recession in 1847, investors turned inward for railroad support. Bankers and brokers used New York–based Wall Street to get funds (Chandler 248).
Railroads became an absolute owing to the need for greater connection between internal regions in the US, inefficiencies in previous methods of transport and the superiority of railroad transport over and above canals, turnpikes or steamboats.
Chandler, Alfred. “Patterns of American Railroad finance, 1830-1850.” The Business History Review 28.3(1954): 248-263. Print.
Stover, John. American Railroads. Chicago: Chicago University press, 1997. Print.