3 Historic Firsts That Made Modern Travel Possible

Once upon a time, the only way you could get from one place to another was to either walk or hop on a horse. We've come a long way, and it's allowed us to explore parts of this world our ancestors never had the chance to. What happened that revolutionized and created the common modes of travel that we use today? Read on and find out.

1. The First Commercial Steam Locomotive

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The steam locomotive is often viewed as one of the highlights of the Industrial Revolution. It was invented by Richard Trevithick in 1802 in the United Kingdom. It meant the beginning of a faster way of moving goods from point A to point B, and it signaled the beginning of the end for relying on horse-drawn freight transportation.

But it would be over 20 years before the new invention would be used to move large numbers of passengers. A father-son duo, George and Robert Stephenson, are credited with creating the first commercial steam locomotive that served passengers, and this was done through their family business, Robert Stevenson and Company. In 1825, their passenger train received passengers at the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Five years later, the pair went on to create the first intercity train line that connected Manchester and Liverpool, and it was known as the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. For its time, the steam locomotive was an impressive machine. But its primary reliance on coal made it inefficient because of the frequent stops required to refill the fuel car. Over time, steam locomotives were replaced by diesel trains that didn’t require frequent stops and electric models that were more efficient and cleaner for the environment.

2. An Affordable Automobile

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There’s no true consensus on who first created the automobile. Many historians will include Leonardo Di Vinci because of various sketches he created that point to a horseless carriage. Plus, during the late 1800s, roughly 100,000 patents were filed around the world for a powered carriage design. However, some familiar surnames are credited as the early inventors, including Karl Friedrich Benz and Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler.

Both inventors created automobiles with a gasoline-powered engine between 1885 and 1886. For the record, it was Daimler who created the first four-wheeled automobile; Benz’s design was three-wheeled. For the most part, it wasn’t until the 20th century that automobiles transitioned from a fanciful novelty for the wealthy to an attainable product everyday people could afford.

Most people credit Henry Ford with not just creating the assembly line but for developing a way to produce affordable cars when he launched the Model T Ford. The car was sold between 1908 and 1927. In fact, the Model T was so influential and became so ubiquitous that it helped launch the American numbered highway system. So, the next time you take a road trip, just remember, the interstate system would never have come to be if the bulk of Americans hadn’t driven a Model T Ford.

3. The First Passenger Plane

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Most people know that the Wright Brothers are credited with performing the first successful flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But there is a big gap in between when flight became possible and when it was a viable option for commercial travel. The first passenger plane wouldn’t become a reality until January 1, 1914, as a simple flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa — two Floridian cities that sit across from each other on Tampa Bay.

In contrast to the Wright Brothers’ design, the passenger plane was a boat plane with a very modest capacity of one pilot and one passenger. The 21-mile, one-way trip across the bay took just 23 minutes to complete by boat plane.

The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line shuttered four months after its launch. But during its run, it operated two flights a day, six days each week. In all, the airline carried over 1,200 passengers and charged $5 per one-way ticket, the equivalent of $100 today. Although the airline was short-lived, it served as a roadmap for future airlines and longer routes.

Which Method of Transportation Had the Greatest Affect on Modern Travel?

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It’s hard to say since we still use all three methods today. While train travel in the United States lags behind more modern high-speed rail options in Europe or Asia, it’s still essential for many Americans, especially commuters in the Northeast Corridor. Likewise, even though air travel is relatively affordable, it’s not the most convenient for short trips when you factor in the time you spend at an airport checking in to a flight, passing through security, waiting for your actual flight, and waiting for your luggage after you land. In these scenarios, a short drive between New York and Boston or Chicago and Indianapolis is preferable to flying. Regardless of which method you prefer, know that almost all of these forms of transportation were revolutionized in the last century.

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