Before the canal was opened, in 1825, it cost $100 a ton and took two weeks to ship grain from Buffalo to New York. By the 1830s it cost just $8 a ton and took only three-and-a-half days. Immigrants climbed on barges and headed west to build homes and lives . New towns got built along the canal's edge. And, in good part because of canal traffic, New York became the nation's largest city.
Canals are easy to navigatethey have no current to resist. But rivers are a different tale. You can float down a stream, but how do you go upriver against the current? Towards the end of the eighteenth century, several people figured out that steamfrom boiling watercan not only blow the lid off a teapot, it can push a boat. The best steamboats in America were built by an artist and inventor named Robert Fulton. In 1807, Fulton's steamboat, the Clermont, chugged 150 miles up the Hudson River, from New York to Albanyagainst the currentin an astonishing thirty-two hours .
Could steam power be used on land too? In 1830, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad opened thirteen miles of track. The railroad cars were pulled by horses . Peter Cooper, a Baltimore inventor, had earlier said he could put a steam engine on the tracks. In 1829 he built a small locomotive he named Tom Thumb, and invited the railroad directors for a ride . Cooper wrote: "We startedsix on the engine, and thirty-six on the car. It was a great occasion. We made the passage to Ellicott's Mills in an hour and twelve minutes ."
Trains were the future. Canals froze in winter, but railroads could be used year-round. The great English writer Charles Dickens came to America and took a train ride. He wrote: "On, on, on tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars; scattering in all directions a shower of burning sparks from its wood fire; screeching, hissing, yelling, panting; until at last the thirsty monster stops beneath a covered way to drink and you have time to breathe again."