But despite booming population, rapidly growing volume of crops, huge amounts of lead mined and increasing size of cities, territorial transportation was almost literally still in the Dark Ages. Shipping or traveling was by lake or river routes, over mud roads not much better than forest trails, on a few plank roads or military roads—and all of these were generally unusable during parts of the year.

The moving of freight was slow, irregular, very expensive and sometimes hazardous under these conditions. Existing transportation frequently couldn’t handle the volume of shipping.

During this time, the cities were beginning their growth, and beginning to compete to see which would have the largest share of industry, commerce, shipping and trade. It was already clear that the city with the best transportation would grow fastest. The two earliest cities were Prairie du Chien and Green Bay. Then Milwaukee began to boom, its population starting to grow from 1835 onward, reaching about 10,000 people in 1845, and then almost unbelievably jumping from 21,000 to 46,000 from 1850 to 1851.

People had begun to think in terms of railroads even by the early 1830’s, despite the prominence of canal-building in that era, and even though the country’s first locomotive had run a few years before, in 1825.

By 1830, the United States had only 23 miles of railroad track; it was to have 2,800 miles by 1840 and about 9,000 miles of track by 1850.





before the




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