Increase in speed of travel in 1800s

The time you have to invest getting from here to there is a major cost of travel. We are so astoundingly spoiled today since we can end our day anywhere in the U.S. starting from anywhere else. Within 24 or 30 hours you can get to just about any country on the planet.

We have to work to remember that  speed is a relatively new development. For most of human history the huge time needed to get from here to there was a severe limit on travel and commerce.

A post in Mother Nature Network, How fast could you travel across the U.S. in the 1800s, highlights maps that show travel times to get across the country.

For perspective, the maps are dawn in terms of travel time from New York City. I pulled together some of the travel times to show the improvements in speed.

Here is the travel time from New York to select cities: 

1800 1830 1857 1930
Chicago 6 wk 3 wk 2 dy 1 dy
New Orleans 4 wk 2 wk 6 dy 2 dy
Denver 2 wk 2 dy
Los Angeles 4 wk 4 dy

Here is the percent reduction in travel time for each of those destinations. Each of the calculations is a reduction from the previous column, not cumulative.

1830 1857 1930
Chicago -50% -90% -50%
New Orleans -50% -57% -67%
Denver -86%
Los Angeles -86%

Here is the cumulative reduction in travel time between 1800 and 1930

  • down 98% – New York to Chicago
  • down 93% – New York to New Orleans

The individual maps are visible at the link above. The full page they were taken from can be seen here.

Now what would be really fun is to extend this to incorporate air travel, first props and then jets.

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