History of Westward Expansion of the Nineteenth Century.

Westward Expansion

It is difficult to separate out the history of westward expansion, the revolution in transportation, and the growth of an industrial market economy that all took hold in America during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Those topics have their own very fascinating histories, but they are also interconnected as causes and consequences of each other’s incredible growth. America’s Industrial Revolution, fueled by steam, and a demand for manufactured goods and commodity agricultural products (cotton, wheat, textiles, boats, trains, train tracks, etc.) created many new types of jobs, from manufacturing line workers, to managers, to machinists, and engineers. By the mid-nineteenth century, the fastest growing profession in the United States was engineering. The engineering feats especially related to the expansion of transportation networks that were accomplished in the first quarter of the nineteenth century are the focus of the documents in this exercise. Engineers used the vast resources available on the continent of North America in combination with technological advances to shape the American landscape in extraordinary ways, and in the process create a robust, fast-growing national market economy.


Document 1 Excerpt is an excerpt from Facts and Observations in Relation to the Origin and Completion of the Erie Canal by John Rutherford (i.e.: Rutherfurd) (New York: N.B. Holmes, 1825). In this document, a proponent of the large project of the construction of a canal in Western western New York argues that the idea had long been in the visions of Americans. Now (1825) circumstances, resources, and technology exist to make the dream a reality. All that is needed is political will in the state legislature of New York.

Found on www.eriecanal.org/history.html (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Document 2 Map includes a map and graphic representation of the area serviced by the Erie Canal, with profiles of the canal and lochs that show the varying depths and other features. Produced in 1859. After it opened in 1825, this important undertaking helped spur the creation of a national economy by tying together the regional economies of the Midwest and the East.

Document 3 Map is a map of the central portion of the United States, showing proposed routes for Pacific railroads, ca. 1850. Almost as soon as the technology was available to imagine long routes of railway travel, debates emerged over proposed routes to cross the continent. Would the route mostly reside in the northern part of the country, or would those in the South and the West prevail and get the transcontinental railway of the future closer to their cities and transportation hubs? Indeed, the debates over the proposed routes of the Transcontinental Railroad paralleled many of the other sectional differences of the first half of the nineteenth century.


1. Read textbook chapters 8 through 10.

2. Read Document 1, an excerpt by John Rutherford about the need for and construction of the Erie Canal.

3. Examine Documents 2 and 3, maps of The Erie Canal and proposed railway routes across the Midwestern United States.

4. Answer the questions that follow and be sure to label your answers and submit in the inbox below in the accepted formats.


1) What were the main elements of the Industrial Revolution?

2) Why was it so important for John Rutherford that the goods and agricultural products produced in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and the Great Lakes region flow through western New York state?

3)What can Document 2 teach historians about the Eire Canal and its significance?

4) What does Document 3 inform current students of history about?

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