Previous page Page 4 of 4  
List of subjects |  Sources |  Feedback 

Share |

Discover in a free
daily email today's famous
history and birthdays

Enjoy the Famous Daily

The roads of Telford and McAdam: 1803-1815

Improvement in the speed of coaches, seen in Britain with the introduction of the mail coach in 1784, is accompanied by similar advances in road technology. Travel in horse-drawn vehicles becomes increasingly sophisticated during a period of about fifty years, until the success of the railways results once again in roads being neglected. The early decades of the 19th century are the great days of coaching, commemorated in many paintings and prints.

Clear evidence of this new priority is the government's appointment of Thomas Telford in 1803 to undertake extensive public works in his native Scotland.

Telford constructs more than 900 miles of road in Scotland, together with 120 bridges, before transferring his attention to the important route along the north coast of Wales (leading to Anglesey and the shipping lanes to Ireland). With justification Robert Southey describes Telford as the Colossus of Roads.

Meanwhile another Scot, John McAdam, has been making great improvements in the surface quality of the new roads. He devises a system, first put into practice in the Bristol region in 1815, for improving the durability of a carriage way.

A McAdam road is well drained and is raised slightly above ground level. McAdam achieves this by laying three successive layers of graded stones, with the largest ones at the bottom. Each layer is compacted by a very simple method. The road is opened to traffic for several weeks, until the metal-rimmed wheels of carriages and carts have compressed and levelled the stones sufficiently for the next layer, of a finer grade, to be added.

Roads made by this method come to be known all over the world as macadamized. When tar is added to bind the top layer, later in the 19th century, the result is the tar macadam road - and eventually the trade name 'tarmac'.

The National Road: 1811-1852

The settlement of the Ohio valley, and the admission of Ohio to the Union in 1803, prompts the construction of the USA's first great federal road project. In 1802 the government undertakes to link the Ohio valley with the Atlantic. Construction begins in 1811 at Cumberland in Maryland, which is already reached by a state road from Baltimore.

The new highway, known variously as the National Road or the Cumberland Road, is completed by 1818 as far as Wheeling on the Ohio river. It reaches Colombus, Ohio, in 1833 and stretches as far west as the Mississippi by 1852. The route survives still, as the trunk road US40.

Built with a compacted stone surface, to the new standards pioneered in Britain by McAdam, the National Road has an immediate effect on the economy of the frontier regions.

When the road reaches Wheeling, transportation times betweens the Ohio river and the eastern seaboard are halved. Grain, hemp and wool from the west now make their way easily to the rich eastern states where they find a ready market.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Previous page Page 4 of 4