Post for 11/4: Choosing between the Railroad and the Canal

by erich.grosse on November 19, 2013

Sorry for the late post! I completely forgot to put this up!

On November 4th, we discussed the decision people had to make about choosing technology.  They had to choose between the railroad or the canal, and often the debates got very heated.  But before we got into what technology was claimed to be better, we first discussed the need behind these innovations.  America was growing at an unexpected pace, and people were now scattered from not just Boston to Savannah, but now from the East Coast to Missouri.  All types of people wanted to keep in touch with their family, friends, or neighbors.  The want to stay in touch with their fellow Americans should not have been a surprise, since the Early American idea of republicanism and community was still  strong in the early and middle of the 19th century.

After discussing articles the Riding the Wings, by Deborah L. Spar and Building a New American State, by Stephen Skowronek, the early winner of the debate  slightly went to the canal.  After the Eerie Canal had success many Americans felt safer with that pick.  Although many investors saw risk in both, the canal had  worked while the railroad was still unknown.  The Eerie Canal, however, had a unique situation.  The weather, the geography, and most importantly, the residents along it, all were in an ideal situation for it to work.  In reality,  both were extremely risky investments.  The questions that investors had to make when considering these devices were not in short supply.  Some of the questions that we went over in class were, who is going to use the railroad or canal?  How is it going to work?  Is it going to be safe to have?  How much is it going to cost?  What is the beneift of having this?  Can we expand or adapt with it?  How will we be able to convince Americans to use it?  These questions made Americans hesitant to put money into a railroad or canal, and as we discussed in class, they should have been.  Many investors lost almost all of thier initial capital during these early risky investments.  They might have lost their individual cash, but through trial and error of the canal and railroad, the U.S. profited.  It was a good class and I am going to be grateful for the initial railroad investors the next time I ride on the train!


Erich Grosse

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