During the past one hundred years, a gigantic change has taken place in the way that Americans travel. People used to travel by train or by horse, but then they suddenly turned to a new form of transportation, the automobile. In 1900 there were around 8,000 cars in the United States; in 1988 there were about 141,252,000.
Many people were skeptical of early trains. These trains could not go any faster than a horse could travel. Also, horses were used on rainy days to pull the trains because it was feared that the engine would rust. One of the first trains in America, the Tom Thumb made by Peter Cooper, raced against a horse. The horse won because the Tom Thumb broke down about one half of the way through the race. The country's first passenger train, the Friend of Charleston located in Charleston, South Carolina, opened for regular service on December 25, 1830. Unfortunately, it exploded only a year and a half later when a fireman tied down the safety valve.
To small towns, a very important day was the one on which the train first came. Huge crowds would gather to watch and a party would be thrown. Trains allowed people from small towns not only to travel more quickly and easily, but to sell their fresh produce for higher prices in cities hundreds of miles away. Travelers liked to use trains because they usually traveled at the speed of twenty miles per hour, while stagecoaches had a top speed of only seven miles per hour. Both trains and stagecoaches broke down a great deal.
The Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. This allowed goods to be transported from one end of the counry to the other. Also, people immigrating to places such as California could travel there very quickly for not much more money than those who travled with wagon trains. Those in wagon trains travelled at a speed of around four miles per hour.
Cars had been invented some time before, but it was not until 1900 that people actually began to buy them. When the first cars came along, people did not know just what to do with them. They were difficult to travel in because the roads were so poor, and also because they frightened horses a great deal. Americans did not even know what to call automobiles. Electromobile, Ipsomotor, Self Motor, Auto-go, and Autopher were suggested names.
At first, electric cars were the most popular. This was because they were quieter and they did not frighten people or horses as much. However, electrical cars had to be recharged between every twenty-five to forty miles, and they went very slowly, especially up hills. Steam cars also had trouble climbing hills, and they were very difficult to start. Gasoline cars were very noisy, there was a gasoline shortage, and no gas stations anyway (repair shops were the only places that sold gasoline). When people first began to make cars, each one was made by hand. The first car to be mass-produced was the 1901 Oldsmobile. In 1913 Henry Ford was the first to use a moving assembly line in car production, making cars much more affordable for Americans. By 1924 a Model T Ford sold for only $290.
Unfortunately, car wrecks killed many people. In early cars, there were few safety measures. Most cars did not even have doors or windshields, so in an accident a person could be thrown out the front or side. It was not until 1968 that seatbelts were required to be installed in cars. Now, cars have many more safety features including air bags and safety glass windows.
As you can see, things have changed a lot. While in some states, speed limits used to be ten or twenty miles, it is now sixty or seventy on most freeways. People can travel with much more speed, safety, and comfort than they could one hundred years ago.
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