School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 3. Analyze the influence of industrialization and technological developments on society in the United States before 1877

Objective a. Describe changes in land and water transportation, including the expanding network of roads, canals, and railroads, and their impact on the economy and settlement patterns


As the United States expanded its territory, an improved transportation network became necessary. Major technological advances revolutionized water and land transportation, and the resulting construction of roads, canals, and railroads made lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains more accessible to settlement and trade.

Shortly after achieving independence, the United States turned its attention to the improvement of its roads, vital to the transportation of both goods and people. In the 1790s and early 1800s, there was a flurry of turnpike construction, as toll roads were constructed and operated by private companies under government regulation. Dirt roads were paved with crushed stone or logs laid side by side. Road construction and improvements greatly facilitated local, intra-state, and inter-state travel and commerce. With the admission of Ohio to the Union, Congress began construction on the National Road, which eventually extended Maryland’s existing road between Baltimore and Cumberland through West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana to Illinois. The National Road linked the Midwest economically and socially to the more established Eastern seaboard.

Canal construction also began in the early 1800s as a way to take advantage of the invention of the steamboat and extend the benefits of water travel beyond the north-south direction of most rivers in the Eastern United States. The completion of the Erie Canal by New York State in 1825 linked Lake Erie to the Hudson River, which led to New York City, reducing shipping costs from Buffalo to New York by 85%. Soon, other states began canal projects in an effort to similarly capture western trade. Prosperous towns sprung up along canal routes, and canals helped to unify the growing nation. By 1840, there were over 3300 miles of canals, but soon the canal would be eclipsed by the railroad.

The development of railroads during the mid-nineteenth century dramatically changed the United States. First developed in the 1830s and making use of new steam-powered locomotives, by the 1850s the railroads dominated the transportation network. Travel by rail was favored because of its speed, reliability, and economy. Construction of east-west lines allowed the efficient shipping of agricultural products from the Midwest to the East, bypassing the slower trek by boat down the Mississippi, through the Gulf of Mexico, and up the eastern seaboard. Railroads were also efficient movers of people to the mid-West, and with expanding populations came new towns and industries. Railroad construction itself provided jobs to thousands of immigrants and fueled the growth of related industries, such as iron. But the rise of the railroad also brought costs. Corruption was common in the railroad industry, and many people were uncomfortable with the quicker pace of life that was a by-product of more rapid transportation. Also, the penetration of the railroad into the West hastened the decline of Native American societies.

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