The History of Transportation spans the entire history of mankind. In early Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, man walked through his world on his own two legs. He couldn't transport more than he was able to carry on his own. Beasts of Burden began to be used after animal domestication sometime in the later part of Neolithic age. However, even then humans could only carry what could be loaded onto or tied to their animal's backs. It was only around 4000-3500 BC that the very first step towards man-made transportation was taken – the wheel was invented. What followed thereafter still continues to make history.
Let us first classify the transportation means and then attempt to understand how history unfolded for each one.
Broadly speaking, transportation means can be classified as under:-
- Land transport
- Water transport
- Air transport
- Space transport
Sometime around the late Neolithic age, man learned how to domesticate animals. He used horse and other beasts of burden to not only help him till the soil but also for transportation purposes. However, the invention of Wheel, around 4000-3500 BC, entirely changed man’s outlook towards life. Transportation became faster. Not only could man himself travel faster but also take loads of goods along with him to distant places. Thus, was also born the idea of trade and exchange.
The land mark inventions that followed are as under:
- Two-wheel chariot - world’s first form of wheeled transportation - invented in Sumeria, around 3500 BC. This eventually led to invention of four-wheel chariot in due course.
- Cart driven by a steam turbine, build by a Jesuit missionary in China– 1670 AD
- Modern bicycles invented – 1790 AD
- Richard Trevithick invented the first steam powered locomotive (for roads) -1801 AD
- George Stephenson invented the first practical steam powered railroad locomotive – 1814 AD
- Jean Lenoir made a gasoline engine automobile – 1862 AD
- Invention of Internal Combustion Enginebya Frenchman named Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir – 1860 AD
- 1867- First motorcycle invented
- 1885 - Karl Benz builds the world's first practical automobile to be powered by an internal combustion engine
- First experiment of electric powered trains – 1895 AD
- Henry Ford improves the assembly line for automobile manufacturing – 1908 AD
During World War II, the diesel engine came into widespread use, and steam was almost completely forgotten. Advancements have continued to be made in the time since.
It is interesting to note that man had developed means of traveling on water even before he had domesticated the horse. Though the origin of the dugout boat still remains one of history’s great mysteries, but it does indicate that man had known how to travel on water long before other means of transport developed. This historians point may have been due to an accidental invention. Nevertheless, the addition of the boat changed the face of water transportation
At first, Simple boats evolved to include a large square of cloth mounted on a central pole. This cloth was called a sail. The sail aided in navigation and wind pressure propelled the boat. Soon this gave way to sail-propelled ships. Later, these sail-propelled ships grew bigger in size while sleeker in design. First the oars and rudders and then the deck covers were also included in the ship’s design.
With the advent of automation in 19th century, water transportation changed forever. Ships shed their sails. Now more goods and people could be transported faster.
The landmark inventions in water transportation are as under:
- Cornelis Drebbel invented the first submarine in 1620 AD
- First practical steamboat demonstrated by Marquis Claude -1783 AD
- Steamboat invented – 1787 AD
- First diesel-powered ship – 1912 AD
- Hovercraft invented – 1956 AD
- First nuclear powered ship launched – 1958 AD
Man’s next stride in transportation looked not to the land, or even to the seas, but to the sky. Although many people had toyed with the idea of flight, but the first sustained, controlled flight took place only in December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The inventors of this new flying machine were brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, two bicycle makers. They invented a bicycle propelled contraption which later evolved into jet-propelled aircraft capable of world-wide mass transfer. It came to be called the aeroplane. Aeroplane made it easier for people to travel great distances in less time.
The land mark inventions in air transportation are as under:-
- Leonardo da Vinci - first to seriously theorize about flying machines - with over 100 drawings that illustrated his theories on flight – 1492 AD
- The Montgolfier brothers invent the first hot air balloons – 1783 AD
- The Wright Brothers invent and fly the first engine airplane – 1903 AD
- Very first helicopter – though an unsuccessful design – 1907 AD
Man wasn’t yet satisfied and set his gaze towards the night sky, and the stars. United States, in 1955, announced the formation of the Vanguard Satellite Program and began exploring what it would take to break away from the Earth’s gravitational pull and thus followed a series of experiments in aerospace engineering.
The landmark events in space transportation are as under:-
- USSR’s Sputnik I.- first eart-orbiting satellite – 1957
- USSR’s Vostok I - first manned space-flight – 1961
- Man Lands on moon – American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon - 1969
- USA’s Enterprise -first reusable space shuttle - 1977
Every development that followed made history. Recently, USA’s NASA has also launched its unmanned expeditions to other planets like Mars and Pluto. With the pace of developments in aerospace engineering, that day is not far when we will see man travel as far as Pluto or maybe further.