Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
I'm Faith Lapidus. This week, travel back in time to explore the history of
transportation in the United States.
In eighteen-hundred, Americans elected Thomas Jefferson
as their third president. Jefferson had a wish. He wanted to discover a
waterway that crossed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. He wanted to
build a system of trade that connected people throughout the country. At that
time the United States did not stretch all the way across the continent.
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proposed that a group of explorers travel across North America in search of such
a waterway. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the exploration west from
eighteen-oh-three to eighteen-oh-six. They discovered that the Rocky Mountains
divided the land. They also found no coast-to-coast waterway.
Jefferson decided that a different transportation system would best connect
American communities. This system involved roads, rivers and railroads. It also
included the digging of waterways.
By the middle of the eighteen-hundreds, dirt roads had
been built in parts of the nation. The use of river steamboats increased. Boats
also traveled along man-made canals which strengthened local economies.
The American railroad system began. Many people did not
believe train technology would work. In time, railroads became the most popular
form of land transportation in the United States.
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nineteenth-century American culture, railroads were more than just a way to
travel. Trains also found their way into the works of writers like Ralph Waldo
Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman.
In eighteen-seventy-six, the United States celebrated
its one-hundredth birthday. By now, there were new ways to move people and
goods between farms, towns and cities. The flow of business changed. Lives
those first one-hundred years, transportation links had helped form a new
(MUSIC: "I've Been Working on the Railroad")
Workers finished the first coast-to-coast railroad in
eighteen-sixty-nine. Towns and cities could develop farther away from major
waterways and the coasts. But, to develop economically, many small communities
had to build links to the railroads.
helped many industries, including agriculture. Farmers had a new way to send
wheat and grain to ports. From there, ships could carry the goods around the
had special container cars with ice to keep meat, milk and other goods cold for
long distances on their way to market.
could now get fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Locally grown
crops could be sold nationally. Farmers often hired immigrant workers from Asia
and Mexico to plant, harvest and pack these foods.
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the early nineteen hundreds, American cities had grown. So, too, had public
transportation. The electric streetcar became a common form of transportation.
These trolleys ran on metal tracks built into streets.
Soon, however, people began to drive their own cars.
Nelson Jackson and his friend, Sewall Crocker, were honored as the first to
cross the United States in an automobile. Their trip in nineteen-oh-three
lasted sixty-three days. And it was difficult. Mainly that was because few good
roads for driving existed.
the two men, and their dog Bud, also had trouble with their car and with the
weather. Yet, they proved that long-distance travel across the United States
was possible. The trip also helped fuel interest in the American automobile
By nineteen thirty, more than half the families in
America owned an automobile. For many, a car became a need, not simply an
expensive toy. To deal with the changes, lawmakers had to pass new traffic laws
and rebuild roads.
also needed businesses to service them. Gas stations, tire stores and repair
centers began to appear.
Many people took to the road for personal travel or to
find work. The open highway came to represent independence and freedom. During
the nineteen twenties and thirties, the most traveled road in the United States
was Route Sixty-Six. It stretched from Chicago, Illinois, to the Pacific Ocean
in Santa Monica, California. It was considered the "people's
writer John Steinbeck called Route Sixty-Six the "Mother Road" in his book "The
Grapes of Wrath." Hundreds of thousands of people traveled this Mother Road
during the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties. They came from the middle
of the country. They moved West in search of work and a better life.
nineteen forty-six, Nat King Cole came out with this song, called "Route
(MUSIC: "Route 66")
War Two ended in nineteen forty-five. Soldiers came home and started families. Businesses
started to move out to the edges of cities where suburbs were developing. Most
families in these growing communities had cars, bicycles or motorcycles to get
around. Buses also became popular.
The movement of businesses and people away from city
centers led to the economic weakening of many downtown areas. City leaders
reacted with transportation projects designed to support downtown development.
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train systems also became popular in the nineteen fifties. Some people had
enough money to ride on the newest form of transportation: the airplane.
for most automobile drivers, long-distance travel remained somewhat difficult.
There was no state-to-state highway system. In nineteen fifty-six Congress
passed a law called the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Engineers designed a
sixty-five-thousand kilometer system of roads. They designed highways to reach
every city with a population over one-hundred-thousand.
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major work on the Interstate Highway System was completed around
nineteen ninety. It cost more than one-hundred-thousand-million dollars. It has
done more than simply make a trip to see family in another state easier. It has
also led to the rise of the container trucking industry.
American transportation system started with horses and boats. It now includes
everything from container trucks to airplanes to motorcycles. Yet, in some
ways, the system has been a victim of its own success.
Many places struggle with traffic problems as more and
more cars fill the roads. And a lot of people do not just drive cars anymore.
They drive big sport utility vehicles and minivans and personal trucks.
For others, hybrid cars are the answer. Hybrids use
both gas and electricity. They save fuel and reduce pollution. But pollution is
not the only environmental concern with transportation. Ease of travel means
development can spread farther and farther. And that means the loss of natural
every day, Americans depend on their transportation system to keep them, and
the largest economy in the world, on the move.
National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. has a transportation exhibition
that explores the connection to the economic, social and cultural development
of the United States. And you can experience it all on the Internet at
americanhistory-dot-s-i-dot-e-d-u. Again, the address is americanhistory-dot-s-i-dot-e-d-u. (americanhistory.si.edu/onthemove/exhibition)
program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for
the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.