How Did Improved Transportation Affect Farming?

August 9, 2023

When something is sold to a consumer, it must be shipped in order to reach that person. Efficient transport is key to any business and that includes farming. Without effective transportation, a lot of crops could be wasted.

The swift improvement in transportation that began around 1790 transformed the way Americans lived. It allowed them to travel with relative ease into new regions, and it made it possible for the growth of eastern cities in a manner that had never before been feasible. It also shifted farmers from subsistence producers into commercial producers, enabling them to sell their surplus.

Before improved transportation, a farmer’s market radius was limited by wagon transport costs that made it impractical to ship goods outside the local area. The development of regional and then national markets facilitated by railroads removed this constraint, and farmers were no longer subject to the constraints of selling into oversupplied local markets or to the price fixing regulations that affected many other businesses.

But the improved transportation did not come without its drawbacks. For example, it took a heavy toll on the environment because railroads used massive amounts of wood for rail ties, support beams for tunnels and bridges, and sheds. This decimated western forests. The use of coal for locomotives and trains added to the environmental damage because it is a dirty fuel and produces more greenhouse gases than other sources. On the positive side, railroads are three to four times more fuel efficient than trucks on a per-ton-mile basis.


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