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The Industrial Revolution and the Railroads

The onset of the Industrial Revolution predated the emergence of the railroad by more than 100 years. Even so, the railroad did as much to enable the Industrial Revolution to maintain its momentum as any other single innovation of the 18th and 19th centuries. Mechanized technology was at the foundation of manufacturing and transportation alike, but the mechanization of transportation and shipping, especially with the addition of speed, was decisive in enabling manufacturing to achieve its own mechanized critical mass.

To understand how an invention that postdated the onset of the Industrial Revolution became the key to industrial success, it is instructive to consider the status of industry prior to the revolutionary stage. In a curious way, the promise of the railroads for strengthening the force of multiple changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution is centered not in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but rather as early as the ancient period. Roman sea power, combined with well-engineered roadways, were vital to its economic, military, and trade strength. Rome's reach extended northward up the boot of Italy and into the Continent, and as far as Britain (Vialls, 1982).

With the decline of Rome maintenance of the transportation network declined, and stone paving for roads was appropriated for local building purposes. Thus transportation between settlements became difficult, and settlements became insular pockets of activity consistent with the emergence


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