Advances in Transportation During the Industrial Revolution

By: Frances Burkham

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The improvements to transportation made during the Industrial Revolution helped transform and advance European life during the 1800's. Not only did these new inventions pave the way during the industrial revolution, but they brought forth new knowledge and ideas that were passed into future generations. They made tasks that were nearly impossible in the past feasible; they broke barriers coast to coast across Europe. Some of the greatest Engineers of all time made their mark during the Industrial Revolution by introducing their inventions to society, and, in the end, creating a whole new, more efficient Europe.

Pre-Industrial Revolution:

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was no form of sufficient transportation. If people wanted to get anywhere, they could either walk on dirt paths or take a horse and carriage. Roads were in very bad condition, and carriages could not continue on during wet or muddy weather. The roads constantly needed to be maintained, and villagers would receive little to no pay for their work.

Toll and Road System:

In order for any new transportation to take place, roads were the first thing that would need be be improved. In the late 1700's, a toll system was developed in Great Britain to help pay for the upkeep of roads. The roads were still simple dirt paths, but the government sought out to improve the current situation so that goods could be delivered more quickly from their factories. These new and improved roads helped guide Europe into the industrial revolution and made it easier for new transportation to be born.

Steam Power (Primary Source):

Steam Power was one of the most important inventions used during the Industrial Revolution. The first steam engine was created during the 17th century, but was modified by many different engineers until it was successfully used in the 1800's. James Watt, a Scottish engineer, spent two decades working on the engine and solving its technical problems. The engine was created to help factories and to replace the animals used in the past to power machinery. British entrepreneurs and craftsmen used Watts coal-saving engine to power their machinery. Still, Watts' engine was too big to run steam-powered vehicles, so it was made smaller to fit into locomotives and ships. Watts' design of the steam engine is important because revolutionized the way Europe saw power, and without him it could have taken decades more to develop the useful device. The steam engine broke the barriers of the past and was a vital part in the creation of new transportation during the Industrial Revolution.

Below is a picture of the James Watt engine (primary source).

Railroads and Steamships:

Using the new and improved steam engine, the railroad emerged as a viable technology in 1814. Its main purpose was to help move coal at mines. The first locomotion inventor was George Stephenson, who successfully pulled the first passenger train from Darlington to Stockton at 15 miles per hour in 1825. In 1829, Stephenson designed "The Rocket" which reached speeds up to 36 miles per hour, and was used on the new railway between Liverpool and Manchester. In its first year, the new line carried four hundred thousand passengers, which made it much more profitable than just carrying freight. Passenger locomotives started business in the 1850's, and by the 1870's nearly all of east and western Europe was covered in railroads. The railroad system created a new form of transportation that was not present before the Industrial Revolution. By connecting the countries of Europe with railways, people could more easily cross over ultimately bringing the countries of Europe together. The railroads impacted the 19th Century by transferring goods at a much quicker speed, and making it possible for people to stretch their surroundings and easily travel further away from their homes.

Below is a picture of Stephenson's "The Rocket"

Along with Railroads, Steam Ships also used the new and improved steam engines to transport goods and passengers. The first steamship to cross the Atlantic was the "Savannah" in 1829. Soon after the first ship crossed, Isambard Kingdom Brunel created the "Great Western" which was not only the largest steamboat in the world at the time, but it was the fastest. It could carry 148 passengers and made it to New York in 15 days from Bristol. Brunel was the most notorious steamship builder during the Industrial Revolution. He later created the "Great Britain" which could reach up to 14.5 knots, and the "Great Eastern" which was five times larger than his previous boat. Steamships made it possible to carry goods to countries like America and Australia, which before the industrial revolution could not have been possible. Steam Ships changed the 19th century by expanding travel leisure, and made it possible to transport goods all across the globe.

Below is a picture of Isambard Kingdon Brunel and the legendary Great Britain steamship.

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Without the advances in transportation made during the industrial revolution, modern travel wouldn't be what it is today. From James Watts engine' to the first passenger train, each helped improve the transportation from the 1700's and transition into the Industrial Revolution. The Railroads and Steamships helped expand knowledge from one country to another, while also carry goods all across the world. These inventions impacted the 19th century by creating a new society that's based off technology and, in the end, revolutionized the way we see transportation.


Primary Source:

1. "The Steam Engine." The Industrial Revolution. Ed. Paul Halsall. 4 Feb. 2007. Internet Modern Histroy Sourcebook. 27 Sept. 2009.


2. "The First Industrial Revolution: Iron Technology Spurs Innovation." World Eras, Vol. 9: Industrial Revolution in Europe, 1750-1914. James R. Farr, ed. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

3. "transportation revolution." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 2009. <>

Other Sources:

4. Unknown Author. "Stockton and Darlington Railway." Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 27 Sept. 2009 <>.

Text Book:

5.• Elizabeth G. Ellis, Anthony Esler. World History. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2009. PDF File.


All pictures besides "James Watts Engine" are from Google images.