History of Freight Transportation

Rich Harkey

April 09, 2015


Throughout the centuries there have been many modes of freight transportation. For many years, goods traveled to their destinations by way of horse drawn wagons. This mode of moving freight was slow and often dangerous. Later, with the introduction of the railway system, business owners could send goods across the country in a faster, safer way. Goods traveled to various cities via steamboat and, later, cargo ships delivered goods to foreign countries. The invention of airplanes created another option for transporting freight to faraway destinations. Business owners have always looked for better, faster, more secure ways to ship their goods. The following looks at the steady progress in the history of freight transportation.

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Transporting Freight by Ship

Before the introduction of the steamboat in the early nineteenth century, many types of goods were moved by flatboat or raft. It was risky to move freight by these basic modes of transportation as well as time-consuming. In addition, flatboats, rafts, and similar watercraft had to be paddled by crew members. Steamboats transported goods in a faster, more efficient way. Today, we have cargo ships that are able to transport heavy machinery, pipes, huge rolls of wire, and even foods packed into special refrigerated compartments. In addition, there are containerships that carry cargo in large containers that can be moved easily on and off a ship. These containers may house foods, electronics or textiles along with a variety of other commercial goods.

Transporting Freight by Train

A railroad line connecting the western part of America with the eastern part was in the minds of visionaries for years. A railroad line that traveled across the entire country could transport a variety of commercial goods as well as passengers. This idea came to life in the form of the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1869, the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad joined together to create the Transcontinental Railroad. Business owners who transported their goods across country by the Transcontinental Railroad system knew that their valuables would be secure and arrive at their destination in a timely fashion. They no longer had to depend on slow horse drawn wagons that were vulnerable to poor road conditions and other mishaps. Business owners had a better, more reliable way to deliver their goods! Today, freight trains can deliver large quantities of goods across the country. Some freight trains are made to transport raw materials such as coal and other types of minerals. Other freight trains carry goods that need to be refrigerated such as vegetables or various dairy products. One of the biggest advantages of transporting goods by train is that this mode of transportation doesn’t have to compete with cars or trucks on the road. It has its own set path all the way through to its destination!

Freight Transportation by Truck

Many types of goods travel back and forth across America by truck. Clothing, food, cars, tools, and heavy machinery are just a few examples of the commercial goods transported by trucks. During the 1930s, business owners began to deliver their goods by truck. At that time, automobiles were becoming popular and, as a consequence, the roads were being paved over and improved. The introduction of the Interstate Highway System in the mid-20th century allowed the trucking industry to experience tremendous growth. Today, trucks are responsible for a large percentage of the commercial shipping activity that occurs in the United States.

Freight Transportation by Airplane

The invention of the airplane in the early twentieth century brought forth another option in the realm of freight transportation. Over the years, improvements were made to early airplanes that eventually lead to the development of the jet. Jets and airplanes became a reliable way to transport commercial goods (cargo) such as furniture, cars, and certain types of machinery. Sometimes large animals such as horses are transported via airplane. Today, there are some airlines that provide overnight delivery of packages and letters. Delivering freight by airplane is fast and efficient though sometimes dangerous weather conditions can delay or cancel a flight. Some business owners who want their goods transported in the fastest way possible opt for delivery by air.

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