Contemporary American History Since 1877

Overview of the Theme

The American history since 1877 as a topic is very vital in understanding the events or occurrences that have moulded the present America. The changes that were experienced during this period contributed greatly to the development of America to become one of the most developed in the world. The development that was experienced touched on issues such as the westward movement, expansionism, industrialization, immigration, imperialism, urbanization, and the reconstruct6ion of America after the civil war. Other events or occurrences that have been closely linked with the development during this period include the economic depression, cold war, world wars, reform movements and the social movements. The American leaders well known as the American Founding fathers are recognized as some of the personalities who built and shaped the American society during the period. The historical changes in America have made it what it is today.


As the American society experienced changes in different industries, more development continued to be seen. One of the industries that experienced very great changes during this period was the transport industry. The immigration of people and industrialization acted as motivational factors to the transport industry development. The transport sector a development provides us with a clear understanding of where the modern day forms of transport originated from. The American transport industry developments have no doubt contributed to the success of America as the state with the most powerful economy. Some of the sectors in the transport industry that experienced great changes included the cable cars, rail roads, water transport(ships and boats),Aviation, Automobiles, and roads (highways and freeways).The changes were motivated by the technological advancements and innovations that were being witnessed all over the world, America included.

The scientific discoveries led to more scientific understanding of how to develop efficient and more advanced communication systems. The transport system development led to rapid and widely spread transformation in other sectors of the economy. The American society early forms of transport were replaced with automobiles due to the exploitation of resources such as petroleum. This in turn made the availability of energy resources in huge amounts easy. The struggle for power in many nations no doubt motivated the transport industry changes.

Rail roads and Cable Cars

Rail Roads

The development of rail roads in America had started in the early 1800s.The people used both cars and carriages pulled by the horses as transport. The initiative to construct inland navigation systems in America began with the shipment of an English locomotive to America in 1828.The Baltimore and Ohio railway were later built by 1830s, which was later followed by the construction of the South Carolina ,Columbia, and Philadelphia rail roads. Before 1877, the rail roads were often used for short distance travel for the passengers. This later came to change after further developments were seen after 1877.

By the 1870s, the rail roads in America were built rapidly with rail road companies coming up. The rail road building in America was then seen as a sign of progress, a situation that led to rapid and far reaching changes in the American society. The rail construction in America after the civil war was supported by government’s funds. Between 1850 and 1877, the rail roads in America that had earlier covered only 2,000miles increased to cover 80,000 miles. Rail roads companies such as Baltimore and Ohio acquired coals mines and other raw materials in huge quantities in order to supply the rail road construction with the necessary requirements. The developments led to the formation of modern day corporation. The constructed rail roads made it easy for people to travel between cities or towns. The cities became connected to each other by rail roads. In 1883, the building of the rail roads led to the adoption of the first national time zone. The rail roads then became a representation of corporate America. The 1877 strike that was directed towards the rail companies was an urban uprising that had the railroad property greatly destroyed. By 1900s, more changes were accompanied with problems, though the railroads continued to expand. The rail roads continued to be managed by some major corporate entities. In 1918, the national time zone was adopted and put under the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) by the US Congress. The American military during the world wars used the rail roads intensively, a situation that had the Railroads War Board established so as to coordinate how well the rail roads were used to meet the requirements of the military force. However, the failure of the board to do its work had the government take over the coordination of the rail roads in 1918.The development of more powerful locomotives had the passengers travel through diesel engine locomotives and freight services provided by 1941.

The capacity of rail roads was increased after the centralization of rail road signaling. The American government seized the rail roads after the World War II.For instance, President Harry Truman authorized the seizing of rail roads by the government in order to handle the nation’s railroad worker strike. By 1960s, about 600 rail road companies were operating and rail roads covered 220, 000miles.By 1970s, about 7.2 percent of American passengers traveled by train. The freight service has had an estimated 1.4 trillion ton-miles transported. The present day American rail system is one of the best and most efficient in the world.

Cable Cars

The use of cable cars in America after 1877 formed an important part of the intermodal urban transport. In America, one of the first cable-operated railways was developed by Andrew Smith Hallidie in 1873 under the engineer William Eppelsheimer.In California cable cars were used after the opening of the California Street Cable rail road in 1878, which was later followed by the 1880 Geary Street, Park and Ocean railway. Many companies were involved in manufacturing cable cars. The United Railroads Company (URR) had the responsibility to ensure that the cable cars railroads were in good condition for the cars to use. Some natural disasters such as the San Francisco earthquake affected adversely the use of the cable cars after the system was destroyed. The use of cable cars and development of cable cars rail roads in America spread to many areas, with some municipals taking responsibility for their development. The civic groups in America advocated for the construction and maintenance of cable cars as a form of transport. Since the rebuilding of destroyed cable car systems in 1979 (San Francisco) in America, the system has been developed further so that the cars are efficient and go hand in hand with the modern technology. Many people in the American cities are currently using cable cars as a means of transport.

Automobiles, Highways and Freeways

The manufacture of automobiles in America began when the Winton Motor Carriage Company. The company was based in Cleveland, Ohio. The company was also considered to be the first to sell an automobile. The first automobiles were hand built, under the incorporation of the Winton Bicycle Company which had been established by a Scottish immigrant referred to as Andrew Winton in 1897.By 1898, an estimated 20 automobiles were sold. The automobiles continued to receive positive response and by 1900s, over one hundred automobiles manufactured by the Winton Company were sold. The automobiles were powered by gas and were bought in large numbers. The first successful drive of an automobile in America was done by Dr.Horatio Nelson Jackson in 1903.By the 1920s, many and new automobile companies were being established, with innovation being adopted in the manufacture of automobiles. By 1935, the manufacture of diesel automobiles had been done. The Winton Engine Company did this under the General Motors subsidiary. Other automobile manufacturing companies that came up include the Maxwell-Briscoe Company. The American company continued to manufacture automobiles using new technology and innovation to produce efficient and competitive automobile models.

The invention of automobiles led to the development of roads in America, which included the highways and the freeways. The invention of bicycles and automobiles in 1880s and 1890s in America triggered the construction of roads. The construction was aimed at serving the coaches, bicycles, cars, and wagons that were being used in America. The federal government managed to put pressure on the government to get involved in the construction of good roads, some of them being highways and freeways. There was need to develop the rural America through roads, a situation that saw the American government put into place measures that would ensure that roads were constructed to facilitate transport. In 1916, the efforts to construct highways and freeways had the American Federal Congress pass the Aid Road Act.

The Federal-Aid Highway Program was then initiated. Through this program, funds to construct roads would be provided to the state agencies as a measure to stimulate road network development. The development was interrupted by the involvement of America in the World War I.

In the 1920s, the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) was authorized by the 1921 Federal Highway Act to provide the state highway agencies with funds that would be directed towards the construction of a two-lane interstate highway. After the World War II, the roads that had been destroyed led to the congestion of the cities. Measures that would repair and reconstruct that road system were put into place. In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the urban and rural express highways through legislation which was referred to as the “National System of Interstate Highways”. However, the construction of the road system did not succeed due to lack of funds. The development of highways took off after President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The BPR was renamed to become Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 1967.By 1980s, the FHWA managed to work with the states to open up about 99 percent of the interstate road system.

Ships and Boats

The early ocean vessels that were used in America often dealt with the transportation of cargo rather than passengers.However, this changed with time. The American ship industry later began to use ships for passenger transport. In the early 1820s, America had a regular ship service schedule that operated between America and England. The ship service was provided by the Black Ball Company in New York. By 1867, cruise ships had been developed to be used by passengers. This continued after 1877, with bigger and better passenger ships being constructed using new technology.The slave trade and immigration had many people use ships as a means of transport to and from America. By 1880s, many immigrants moved to America using ships.

The transatlantic passenger ships were constructed and by 1940s, a good number of ships were in operation. Apart from being used by passengers to travel from one region to the other, the ships were used for tourism. The tourists were offered a good opportunity to visit different tourist sites using ships. During the World Wars, America used ships to fight its enemies. There was also the construction of cruise liners that could be converted into troop carriers4. By 1960s, the modern cruise ship industry began. The ship industry has continued to grow with many cargo and passenger ships being constructed, and many American harbors providing service to foreign and local ships. America’s economic development has promoted great growth of the ship industry.

Boats had been used in America even before the building of the ships. The traditional boats were used by the Americans, including the natives. The development that was experienced after 1877 had the boat industry introduce new and better boat designs than those that earlier existed. Boats were used for transport and tourism just like the ships. Since then, the boat industry has introduced boats that have been manufactured using modern technology. The modern day boats are now being widely used in America.


In America, the aviation industry developments have been linked to the technological advancements which have continued to experience new innovations day by day. The aviation industry in America in the early 1900s was promoted by new technology.The need to develop and use effective and powerful aerial weapons had America invest greatly in the manufacture of aircraft. For instance, the World Wars had the American enemies develop powerful and very efficient military strategies by using aircrafts. The establishment of aircraft manufacturing companies such as North American Aviation prepared the nation well in the production and use of aircraft.

American aircrafts that were manufactured have been recognized all over the world. For example, aircrafts such as T-6 Texan, P-51 Mustang Fighter, F-86 Fabre Jet Fighter and X-15 Rocket Plane were manufactured.In 1920s, many American companies were being established in order to boost the development of the aviation industry. With the manufacture of aircrafts increasing, facilities such as airports were constructed in large numbers. Many American cities had airports being put up in order to provide service to people through aircrafts. Many people also began using air transport due to the availability of the service at fair costs and between many cities. The airline companies or airlines continued to purchase planes to increase their fleet, a situation that opened up America for business investments in the aviation industry. The aviation industry continued to expand over time. As compared to other countries, America experienced great developments in aviation. Both the manufacturing and the airline corporations were competing to provide high quality services to the citizens while at the same time maximizing their profits.

Business between companies grew with some companies merging with the aim of succeeding amidst the intense competition. Aircraft companies that had earlier been established in Ohio, Dallas, Texas, Kansas, and Columbus paved way for the other cities to get involved in the aviation industry. The manufacture of efficient and new aircraft designs further encouraged the growth of the American Aviation industry. The energy sources continued to be exploited in order to supply the aviation industry with commodities that were in high demand. For example, exploitation of oil reserves continued to increase so as to meet the energy needs in the aviation industry.

Over the years, the number of American citizens who use air transport has been increasing. The airports have now adopted new technology in their operations such that customer service has become fast and efficient. Security has become an issue of concern to many passengers. This has made the government to put into place measures that monitor against any criminal activity. The airports and airline corporations have invested greatly in ensuring that their facilities and passengers are safe. Since aircraft manufacture began in America, the aviation industry has continuously experienced changes that have made it easy for people to use air transport.

Personal Opinion about American Transport since 1877

The transport industry in America has experienced great changes since 1877.The innovations in the industry have been the major cause of the developments that have been experienced in this industry. The rail roads are currently being used in so many parts of the world. The American innovations contributed to the spread and growth of good transport system in other parts of the world. However, it’s very important to note that America’s transport system also adopted technology from other nations. For example, European countries such as Germany were able to invent high technology transport vessels (roads, aircrafts, and ships).

Industrialization in America promoted trade. Farming in large scale had America import commodities to the other countries. Cotton growing in some American states promoted the import of the commodities to other countries such as England. This made it necessary for America to develop ways through which it would transport goods and services to other countries. All the above discussed means of transport assisted this.

The involvement of America in World Wars stimulated the development and growth of the transport industry, but at the same time destroyed the transport system. The efforts to develop means through which the American military forces would fight effectively had the transport systems well constructed or repaired. On the other hand, the war activities damaged the transport system such as roads, rail roads, and ships. The economic growth in America has made the American transport system one of the most developed in the world.


The American history since 1877 has remained very important to the making of the present America. Many sectors of the economy underwent great changes that worked to compliment each other in economic growth. The rail roads opened up the means through which people in America could travel from one city to another, as well as conduct business activities. New technology has continued to boost the transport industry development in America. The facilities that support the transport have also continued to be developed.


Bianculli, Anthony.Trains and Technology: The American Railroad in the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 1, Trains and Technology. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001.

Brief History of the Passenger Ship Industry library. 2008. Web.

Daniels, Rudolph. Trains across the Continent: North American Railroad History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Dilger, Robert.American Transportation Policy.Praeger Publishers, 2002.