CHAPTER XXIV. GROWTH OF THE COUNTRY FROM 1820 TO 1840
WESTERN ROUTES. - Aroused by the success of the Erie Canal, Pennsylvania began a great highway from Philadelphia to Pittsburg. As planned, it was to be part canal and part turnpike over the mountains. But before it was completed, railroads came into use, and when finished, it was part railroad, part canal. Not to be outdone by New York and Pennsylvania, the people of Baltimore began the construction (1828) of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first in the country for the carriage of passengers and freight.  Massachusetts, alarmed at the prospect of losing her trade with the West, appointed (1827) a commission and an engineer to select a route for a railroad to join Boston and Albany. Ohio had already commenced a canal from Cleveland to the Ohio. 
EARLY RAILROADS. - The idea of a public railroad to carry freight and passengers was of slow growth,  but once it was started more and more miles were built every year, till by 1835 twenty-two railroads were in operation. The longest of them was only one hundred and thirty-six miles long; it extended from Charleston westward to the Savannah River, opposite Augusta. These early railroads were made of wooden beams resting on stone blocks set in the ground. The upper surface of the beams, where the wheels rested, was protected by long strips or straps of iron spiked to the beam. The spikes often worked loose, and, as the car passed over, the strap would curl up and come through the bottom of the car, making what was called a "snake head."
What should be the motive power, was a troublesome question. The horse was the favorite; it sometimes pulled the car, and sometimes walked on a treadmill on the car. Sails were tried also, and finally locomotives. 
Locomotives could not climb steep grades. When a hill was met with, the road had to go around it, or if this was not possible, the engine had to be taken off and the cars pulled up or let down an inclined plane by means of a rope and stationary engine. 
A TRIP ON AN EARLY RAILROAD. - A traveler from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, in 1836, would set off about five o'clock in the morning for what was called the depot. There his baggage would be piled on the roof of a car, which was drawn by horses to the foot of an inclined plane on the bank of the Schuylkill. Up this incline the car would be drawn by a stationary engine and rope to the top of the river bank. When all the cars of the train had been pulled up in this way, they would be coupled together and made fast to a little puffing, wheezing locomotive without cab or brake, whose tall smokestack sent forth volumes of wood smoke and red-hot cinders. At Lancaster (map, p. 267) the railroad ended, and passengers went by stage to Columbia on the Susquehanna, and then by canal packet up that river and up the Juniata to the railroad at the foot of the mountains.
The mountains were crossed by the Portage Railroad, a series of inclined planes and levels somewhat like a flight of steps. At Johnstown, west of the Alleghenies, the traveler once more took a canal packet to Pittsburg. 
THE WEST BUILDS RAILROADS AND CANALS. - Prior to 1836 most of the railroads and canals were in the East. But in 1836 the craze for internal improvements raged in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, and in each an elaborate system of railroads and canals was planned, to be built by the state. Illinois in this way contracted a debt of $15,000,000; Indiana, $10,000,000, and Michigan, $5,000,000.
But scarcely was work begun on the canals and railroads when the panic of 1837 came, and the states were left with heavy debts and unfinished public works that could not pay the cost of operating them. Some defaulted in the payment of interest, and one even repudiated her bonds which she had issued and sold to establish a great bank.
THE MAILS. - As the means of transportation improved, the mails were carried more rapidly, and into more distant parts of the country. By 1837 it was possible to send a letter from New York to Washington in one day, to New Orleans in less than seven days, to St. Louis in less than five days, and to Buffalo in three days; and after 1838 mail was carried by steamships to England in a little over two weeks.
OCEAN STEAMSHIPS. - In the month of May, 1819, the steamship Savannah left the city of that name for Liverpool, England, and reached it in twenty-five days, using steam most of the way. She was a side- wheeler with paddle wheels so arranged that in stormy weather they could be taken in on deck. 
No other steamships crossed the Atlantic till 1838, when the Sirius reached New York in eighteen days, and the Great Western in sixteen days from England. Others followed, in 1839 the Cunard line was founded, and regular steam navigation of the Atlantic was established.
EXPRESS. - Better means of communication made possible another convenience, of which W. F. Harnden was the originator. He began in 1839 to carry packages, bundles, money, and small boxes between New York and Boston, traveling by steamboat and railroad. At first two carpetbags held all he had to carry; but his business increased so rapidly that in 1840 P. B. Burke and Alvin Adams started a rival concern which became the Adams Express Company.