Wed 26 Feb 20 in History

A short history of transportation


Getting from point A to point B has always been more than a math equation to human minds and aspirations. We wanted to get even further. Looking back at all the marvelous inventions throughout history we can see the human mind at work. 


Modest beginnings of transportation.

It probably all began with someone looking at the horizon, thinking of a fast and efficient way to go over it. Walking was the first obvious option but mother nature already provided a form of propulsion, its rivers of flowing water and huge bodies of water sometimes jostled by currents. People made good use of these modes of transport and used them to their advantage, with canoes and rafts as some of the oldest transportation methods.

Domesticated animals came later and ushered a revolutionary way of going about in the world. Now stretches of land could more easily be traversed, worked and explored. Horses, donkeys, and oxen are among the most usual animals that come to mind, some other animals include dogs, reindeers, llamas, camels, and elephants. This increasing number of ways to transport people and goods assisted in the development of trade. Traffic increased and wider routes or roads needed to be built. 


A precursor to the wheel.

Having the means to carry one’s goods also came with some innovations, such as a travois. The word itself is derived from the French word travail which means work. It was an elongated triangular frame used to carry an assortment of goods. The pointed end could be pulled or pushed by someone on foot or mounted on an animal to drag it along the ground. The travois was, in fact, a precursor to the wheel. 


A marvelous invention, the wheel.

So simple and yet before it emerged out of someone’s imagination, the concept might have seemed inconceivable. It’s such a shame that no one knows who indeed came up with the wheel, the inventor’s name forever lost to history. Animal drawn wheeled wagons have been carting people and their belongings since the 4th or 5th millennium BC, from Europe to Asia. 


Romans needed a lot of horsepower to support the Empire and manage a continuous stream of supplies across the provinces. The famous Roman roads were built to facilitate access by land onto which armies could march, civilians could walk and trade conducted. Whether using two-wheeled carts or four-wheeled wagons, the advantage of having paved solid roads helped maintain the enormous Empire. In trying to protect from the elements, wagons were covered with cloth or wooden frames. 


A new way of transit

This form of transit by wagon with an animal attached at the front to drag it along on rounded wheels had been the way to travel for centuries. Until the onset of the 18th century and the invention of the steam engine. The steam locomotive condensed the technology of the steam engine with the horse-drawn carriage. This change affected boat travel as well. On land,  travel was now faster, but on the water, it meant not always being at the mercy of the waves and currents. So it’s no wonder that boats were among the first to get an upgrade with the steam engine. 


What is intriguing, is that about the same time that this technological and mechanical revolution was taking place, a less upgraded form of transportation was hitting the road: the bicycle. While the whole world looked in wonder at the engine that pushed huge and heavy trains and cars down tracks and roads, other people began using the most basic mode of traveling, a reversion back to human drawn mechanism. The penny-farthing is easily the most recognizable old type of bicycle, with its large front wheel. That design changed over the years to the bicycle we all know and still use today. 


Taking a further step

As the old traveling ideas merged with the new tools to power on and carry us to the future, a completely different move took to the air. Flying through the sky now began to feel a lot more doable than before. In the past, we only touched the sky using kites. China before 200 BC is known to have flown kites, and Leonardo da Vinci’s mind was curiously ruminating on flight as shown in his many studies. However, da Vinci never took those ideas out of his sketchbooks and into proper experimentation. 


Conquering the sky

Other studies in the 17th-18th century of the Earth’s atmosphere came with the discovery of hydrogen. This brought about the invention of the hydrogen balloon. The zeppelin was a very famous rendering of that concept. They were used in transatlantic crossings, or over the Siberian plains. The older version meant that passengers had to endure the cold while traveling in one of these aircraft. Fire was a legitimate risk due to the fact that hydrogen is highly flammable. After the Hindenburg disaster, the zeppelin was taken out of use. 


All these discoveries and inventions paved the way for modern traveling methods.

From our cars to airplanes and bicycles, they all had modest beginnings and evolved along with us.