When the above photograph was taken in 1866, the Transcontinental Railroad was not yet complete, and the concept of an automobile hadn’t even been dreamt up. This photograph interested me because it demonstrates the difficulties of transportation before railways were widely common, and before automobiles had even been invented. The wagon appears to be made of wood, with only a cloth covering to protect the family from any harsh weather. The family is also in the middle of an expansive plain, with no sign of even a flat dirt road underneath the wheels of their wagon, indicating that the journey was likely extremely rough, and that for many settlers, transportation did not involve established transportation routes. In those ways, this photograph clearly demonstrates the need for a more rapid form of transportation during a time of expansion in America.
This photo also shows the impact that advancements in transportation would have on settlers. All of these family’s worldly possessions are shown in this photograph. Whatever they wanted to bring with them on their journey had to fit in their covered wagon, which all five family members had to live out of for the duration of their journey. Once railroads, and eventually automobiles, became more common, the long and difficult cross-country journeys with minimal supplies became much faster and more manageable. Additionally, this family doesn't seem to be close to any type of town or settlement, and more efficient transportation methods would allow small towns to develop in many of the rural parts of the United States.
This family’s journey is just one example of the type of westward expansion that revolutionized the landscape and history of the entire country in the mid-1800s. This westward expansion pushed people into all corners of the country, and set the stage for a new type of economy to emerge in America (Guillaume, 2008). This new economy would be a national one, with goods and manufactured products being shipped from north to south and east to west, and each corner of the country dependent on goods from other regions. This westward expansion created the perfect environment and need for a new type of transportation to emerge—one that was quick and efficient, and could be put to use on a national scale. Just a few decades later, the automobile would fill that need.
Vandenbroucke, Guillaume. "The U.S Westward Expansion." International Economic Review 49.1 (2008): 81-110. Wiley Online Library. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
"Photograph of a Family with Their Covered Wagon During the Great Western Migration."Docs Teach. National Archives. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.