The Telegraph
Developed in the 1830s and 1840s by Samuel Morse (1791-1872) and other inventors, the
telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication. It worked by transmitting electrical
signals over a wire laid between stations. In addition to helping invent the telegraph, Samuel
Morse developed a code (bearing his name) that assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter
of the English alphabet and allowed for the simple transmission of complex messages across
telegraph lines. In 1844, Morse sent his first telegraph message, from Washington, D.C., to
Baltimore, Maryland; by 1866, a telegraph line had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean from the
U.S. to Europe. Although the telegraph had fallen out of widespread use by the start of the 21st
century, replaced by the telephone, fax machine and Internet, it laid the groundwork for the
communications revolution that led to those later innovations.
In a country as large as the United States, it is easy to see why fast transportation became
increasingly important. In the beginning, Americans relied on horses, wagons, and coaches. As
late as 1830, the trip from Boston to New York took two days on a fast stagecoach.
The expanding country desperately needed a quicker and more efficient form of transportation.
In the early 1800s Americans dug canals in many of the eastern states. The Erie Canal,
completed in 1825, connected the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. This helped New York City,
at the mouth of the Hudson, become the largest city in the country.
Railroads quickly filled a vital need for travel across the country. By the start of the Civil War in
1861, the country had 30,000 miles of railroad track. But the era of the railroads really began
when the Civil War ended.
Railroads had an enormous impact on Americans. Journeys that had taken weeks or months by
horses and wagons now took only a few days. People could take trips just about anywhere in the
country. But this was minor compared with what railroads meant for industry. Railroads could
carry large amounts of raw materials to the factories in the Northeast and the Midwest. They
could also carry manufactured items of all sorts to people almost anywhere, even people living in
the sparsely-settled West. In these ways, railroads brought jobs, useful goods, and better lives for
many people.
The Erie Canal
The Erie Canal is famous in song and story. Proposed in 1808 and completed in 1825, the canal
links the waters of Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east. An engineering marvel
when it was built, some called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.
In order to open the country west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers and to offer a cheap
and safe way to carry produce to a market, the construction of a canal was proposed as early as
1768. However, those early proposals would connect the Hudson River with Lake Ontario near
Oswego. It was not until 1808 that the state legislature funded a survey for a canal that would
connect to Lake Erie. Finally, on July 4, 1817, Governor Dewitt Clinton broke ground for the
construction of the canal. In those early days, it was often sarcastically referred to as "Clinton's
Big Ditch". When finally completed on October 26, 1825, it was the engineering marvel of its
day. It included 18 aqueducts to carry the canal over ravines and rivers, and 83 locks, with a rise
of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. It was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, and floated
boats carrying 30 tons of freight. A ten foot wide towpath was built along the bank of the canal
for the horses and/or mules which pulled the boats and their driver, often a young boy
(sometimes referred to by later writers as a "hoggee").
The Cotton Gin
The Effects of the Cotton Gin
. . . After the invention of the cotton gin, the yield of raw cotton doubled each decade after 1800.
Demand was fueled by other inventions of the Industrial Revolution, such as the machines to
spin and weave it and the steamboat to transport it. By midcentury America was growing
threequarters of the world’s supply of cotton, most of it shipped to England or New England where it
was manufactured into cloth. During this time tobacco fell in value, rice exports at best stayed steady,
and sugar began to thrive, but only in Louisiana. At midcentury the South provided threefifths of
America’s exports — most of it in cotton. However, like many inventors, [Eli] Whitney (who died in
1825) could not have foreseen the ways in which his invention would change society for the worse.
The most significant of these was the growth of slavery. While it was true that the cotton gin reduced
the labor of removing seeds, it did not reduce the need for [use of] slaves to grow and pick the cotton.
In fact, the opposite occurred. Cotton growing became so profitable for the planters that it greatly
increased their demand for both land and slave labor. In 1790 there were six slave states; in 1860
there were 15. From 1790 until Congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808,
Southerners imported 80,000 Africans. By 1860 approximately one in three Southerners was a slave. .