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History of transport

The history of transport evolved with the development of human culture. Long distance walking tracks developed as trade routes in paleolithic times. For most of human history the only forms of transport apart from walking were using domesticated animals or transport in small boats.


Road transport

The first earth tracks were created by humans carrying goods and often followed game trails. Tracks would be naturally created at points of high traffic density. As animals were domesticated, horses, oxen and donkeys became an element in track-creation. With the growth of trade, tracks were often flattened or widened to accommodate animal traffic. Later, the travois, a frame used to drag loads, was developed. Animal-drawn wheeled vehicles probably developed in Sumer in the Ancient Near East in the 4th or 5th millennium BC and spread to Europe and India in the 4th millennium BC and China in about 1200 BC. The Romans had a significant need for good roads to extend and maintain their empire and developed Roman roads.

In the medieval Islamic world, many roads were built throughout the Arab Empire. The most sophisticated roads were those of the Baghdad, Iraq, which were paved with tar in the 8th century. Tar was derived from petroleum, accessed from oil fields in the region, through the chemical process of destructive distillation.[1]

In the Industrial Revolution, John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) designed the first modern highways, using inexpensive paving material of soil and stone aggregate (macadam), and he embanked roads a few feet higher than the surrounding terrain to cause water to drain away from the surface. With the development of motor transport there was an increased need for hard-topped roads to reduce washaways, bogging and dust on both urban and rural roads, originally using cobblestones and wooden paving in major western cities and in the early 20th century tar-bound macadam (tarmac) and concrete paving were extended into the countryside.

The modern history of road transport also involves the development of new vehicles such as new models of horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles, motor cars, motor trucks and electric vehicles.

Maritime transport

In the stone ages primitive boats developed to permit navigation of rivers and for fishing in rivers and off the coast. It has been argued that boats suitable for a significant sea crossing was necessary for people to reach Australia an estimated 40,000-45,000 years ago. With the development of civilization, bigger vessels were developed both for trade and war. In the Mediterranean, galleys were developed about 3,000 BC. Galleys were eventually rendered obsolete by ocean-going sailing ships, such as the Arabic caravel in the 13th century, the Chinese treasure ship in the early 15th century, and the Mediterranean man-of-war in the late 15th century. In the industrial revolution, the first steam ships and later diesel-powered ships were developed. Eventually submarines were developed mainly for military purposes.

Meanwhile specialised craft were developed for river and canal transport. Canals were developed in Mesopotamia circa 4000 BC. The Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan and North India (from circa 2600 BC) had the first canal irrigation system in the world.[2] The longest canal of ancient times was the Grand Canal of China. It is 1794 kilometers (1115 miles) long and was built to carry the Emperor Yang Guang between Beijing and Hangzhou. The project began in 605, although the oldest sections of the canal may have existed since circa 486 BC. Canals were developed in the Middle Ages in Europe in Venice and the Netherlands. Pierre-Paul Riquet began to organise the construction of the 240 km-long Canal du Midi in France in 1665 and it was opened in 1681. In the Industrial Revolution, inland canals were built in England and later the United States before the development of railways. Specialised craft were also developed for fishing and later whaling.

Maritime history also deals with the development of navigation, oceanography, cartography and hydrography.

Rail transport

The history of rail transportation dates back nearly 500 years, and includes systems with man or horse power and rails of wood (or occasionally stone). This was usually for moving coal from the mine down to a river, from where it could continue by boat, with a flanged wheel running on a rail. The use of cast iron plates as rails began in the 1760s, and was followed by systems (plateways) where the flange was part of the rail. However, with the introduction of rolled wrought iron rails, these became obsolete.

Modern rail transport systems first appeared in England in the 1820s. These systems, which made use of the steam locomotive, were the first practical form of mechanized land transport, and they remained the primary form of mechanized land transport for the next 100 years.

The history of rail transport also includes the history of rapid transit and arguably monorail history.


Humanity's desire to fly likely dates to the first time man observed birds, an observation illustrated in the legendary stories of Daedalus and Icarus in Greek mythology, and the Vimanas in Indian mythology. Much of the focus of early research was on imitating birds, but through trial and error, balloons, airships, gliders and eventually powered aircraft and other types of flying machines were invented.

Apart from some scattered reference in ancient and medieval records, resting on slender evidence and in need of interpretation, the earliest clearly verifiable human flight took place in Paris in 1783, when Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and Francois d'Arlandes went 5 miles (8 km) in a hot air balloon invented by the Montgolfier brothers. The Wright brothers made the first sustained, controlled and powered heavier-than-air flight on December 17, 1903.


The realistic dream of spaceflight dated back to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, however Tsiolkovsky wrote in Russian, and this was not widely influential outside Russia. Spaceflight became an engineering possibility with the work of Robert H. Goddard's publication in 1919 of his paper 'A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes'; where his application of the de Laval nozzle to liquid fuelled rockets gave sufficient power that interplanetary travel became possible. This paper was highly influential on Hermann Oberth and Wernher Von Braun, later key players in spaceflight.

The first human space flight was achieved with the Soviet space program's Vostok 1 mission in 1961. The lead architects behind the mission were Sergei Korolev and Kerim Kerimov, with Yuri Gagarin being the first astronaut. Kerimov later went on to launch the first space docks (Cosmos 186 and Cosmos 188) in 1967 and the first space stations (Salyut and Mir series) from 1971 to 1991.[3][4] The first spaceflight to the Moon was achieved with NASA's Apollo 11 mission in 1969, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being the first astronauts on the Moon. The history of transportation is largely one of technological innovation. Advances in technology have allowed people to travel farther, explore more territory, and expand their influence over larger and larger areas. Even in ancient times, new tools such as foot coverings, skis, and snowshoes lengthened the distances that could be traveled. As new inventions and discoveries were applied to transportation problems, travel time decreased while the ability to move more and larger loads increased. Innovation continues today, and transportation researchers are working to find new ways to reduce costs and increase transportation efficiency.

See also

  • Timeline of aviation
  • Timeline of jet power
  • Timeline of artificial satellites and space probes
  • Timeline of transportation technology
  • Timeline of underwater technology
  • Medieval transport


  1. ^ Dr. Kasem Ajram (1992). The Miracle of Islam Science (2nd Edition ed.). Knowledge House Publishers. ISBN 0-911119-43-4. 
  2. ^ "Civlisations - case studies". ThinkQuest. http://library.thinkquest.org/C0110225/civilisations.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  3. ^ Peter Bond, Obituary: Lt-Gen Kerim Kerimov, The Independent, 7 April 2003.
  4. ^ Betty Blair (1995), "Behind Soviet Aeronauts", Azerbaijan International 3 (3).

Further reading

  • Casson, Lionel. 1984. Ancient Trade and Society. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Creveld van, Martin, 1977. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Farooque, Abdul K.M. 1977. Roads and Communications in Mughal India. Delhi: Idarah-I Adabiyat-I Delli.