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Before the 1800s, infrastructure was limited, mostly consisting of well-trodden but undesignated trails that created paths for horse-drawn carriages. Another form of infrastructure was canals that were commonly used to transport goods between cities.

Around the world, infrastructure was in its nascent stages, with limited resources dedicated to maintaining the roads for travel. However, as the opportunity and need for travel grew, and more sophisticated methods of transportation came about, there was a greater emphasis on creating ways to efficiently get from one place to another.

Infrastructure in the 1700s

Boats have been around for thousands of years, although their size limitations and lack of power made them unviable for people looking to travel long distances. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that boats of any size and power were built to handle long journeys. By 1776, however, large ships were regularly used to transport goods to and from various countries through canals, rivers, and seas. As ships became a more common form of transportation for people and goods, countries began to establish more direct transportation routes that could be used more easily by more people.

 

During this century, the lack of established roads and road maintenance meant that travel was particularly slow, as horse-drawn carriages traveled at a near-glacial pace along bumpy and unsteady roads. In the summer, the roads were dusty and difficult, and in the winter, the rain and snow made them sticky and muddy. During the worst four or five months of the year, wheeled vehicles kept off the roads entirely because they were mostly unusable.

 

In England, it was often the responsibility of parishes to maintain the roads; however, as traffic increased, the roads were soon turnpiked, and the tolls were used to improve the roads. In 1754, the journey from London to Manchester took four and a half days, but only three decades later, the trip could be made in just over a day.

Development of Roads

The Americas were mostly uninhabited in the 1700s, although towns were growing along the east coast of what is now the U.S. Public transit was in its early stages all over the world, as more people began traveling by coach. However, this method of transportation was largely exclusive to the upper and middle classes due to cost.

 

Before the 1700s, roads were simply covered in sand after widening due to heavy use; but as carriage travel became more common, roads were covered in layers of large stones, mixed road material, and gravel instead. In the latter half of the century, macadamized roads were accepted as the best road structure because their crushed stone surfaces made them easier to travel on, allowing for faster speeds and heavier loads to be transported by coach.

 

Throughout the century, turnpiked roads and the development of macadam helped turn the old, dusty, inefficient roads into high-use highways. Between 1730 and 1770, toll roads became hugely popular in England and America, usually built by private companies under a government franchise. The improved roads helped transform the infrastructure of the time into a more efficient and practical system of transportation.

 

The first trains were not invented until the early 1800s, which meant that businesses in the 1700s still used waterways as the primary method to transport large amounts of goods across the country. In Britain and Ireland in particular, inland canals were being created at greater rates; between 1760 and 1820, more than 100 canals were built in Britain.

Modern Infrastructure Around the World

Today, infrastructure is one of the key classifiers of industrialized nations. The ability to transport goods is necessary for a country to get food and other materials to areas of the country where it’s needed. In industrialized countries, efficient roadways and transportation indicate proper city planning that accounts for potential city growth.

 

In large metropolitan areas around the world, city planners construct commercial sites around major roads, which are often high-traffic locations. This has resulted in the construction of taller buildings that are not only an efficient use of space but also a status symbol for large corporations. Since 2000, the number of buildings that exceed 200 meters in height has tripled as more businesses see the benefits of building taller physical locations.

 

Although the U.S. is considered an industrialized nation, its quality of roads has long since fallen behind those of other industrialized countries. Currently, there are more than 4 million miles of public roadways in the U.S. Unfortunately, 32 percent of these roadways are in dire need of repairs, and their inefficiency is costing American travelers billions of dollars each year. Although civil engineers are responsible for the continued maintenance and upgrades to existing infrastructure, lack of finances keep these necessary upgrades from being made.


Roads will always require maintenance, as weather, vehicle weight, and general heavy use often result in degradation, potholes, and other damage. Even with asphalt, which is one of the most popular, durable, and reusable surfaces, proper maintenance is required. The United States produces $30 billion of asphalt each year for construction. However, road maintenance is still not done frequently enough to protect the asphalt and undo the damages of small cracks, moisture, and oil. This has resulted in substandard roads across the U.S.

 

Infrastructure has come a long way in the last 300 years. Society went from using boats in canals and horse-drawn carriages on dirt roads to high-speed trains, efficient highway systems, and planes that can take people around the world in a matter of hours. Although dusty and inefficient, those first dirt paths paved the way for the advanced roads and methods of transportation we have today. While U.S. infrastructure is currently in need of greater attention, we wouldn’t be where we are today without these advancements.

About the Author:

Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. 
Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.