What types of vehicles did people in California use during the mid-19th to early-20th centuries?
How did new technologies change the way people traveled to California during this era?
How did various types of transportation help people access California’s diverse terrain during this era?
These images show some of the many types of transportation used in California by Californians — and by people coming to California from elsewhere — during the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Whether by horse and carriage, train, boat, automobile, or even airplane, transportation was vital to California’s growth and success.
In the mid-19th century, most newcomers came to California on foot, rode across the country in horse-or ox-drawn wagons, or arrived by ship from other parts of the world. But in 1869, the first transcontinental railroad linked the eastern United States with the west, transforming a hard four- to six-month wagon journey into a few days on a train.
The railroad also carried supplies and goods. Logging trains like this one in Humboldt County carried lumber to support the mining industry and to build new towns and cities across the state. Sacramento’s train depot and levee system moved resources from remote areas to growing markets.
Shipping was active on many of the state’s natural bays and waterways. This photograph of a variety of ships at Arcata’s wharf in Humboldt County was taken sometime between the 1880s and 1920s, and shipping remains a vital trade link for California within the Pacific Rim.
Pleasure boats were common in California’s coastal cities, as they are today. Boats and personal watercrafts, like the one shown here in 1938, were a popular means of transporting people across Mono Lake. But the environmental damage this caused prompted such activities to be prohibited as a part of growing conservation efforts in the mid- to late 20th century.
Change came quickly. By the turn of the 20th century, innovations in transportation technology dramatically increased the numbers of people and goods moving through California, and redefined how people lived, traveled, and communicated.
The invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s gave people an alternative to walking and riding horses. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries bicycles had become a popular means of personal transportation, as shown by this large group of cyclists gathered in Arcata plaza.
California’s burgeoning cities spurred the invention of new kinds of vehicles. The first streetcar systems, like this one in Riverside, used horses. But soon the newer and more efficient electric streetcars began to flourish in cities like San Francisco. Ferries provided mass-transit and links to the trolleys for people commuting from the East Bay into the City.
Los Angeles also had an early electric streetcar system. But as the city’s population boomed in the early 20th century, automobiles quickly replaced mass-transit as the way to get around the sprawling metropolitan area.
How to use Local History Mapped (PDF): ideas and activities for the classroom
K-6 Geography: Themes, Key Ideas, and Learning Opportunities (PDF) (Source: Geographic Education National Implementation Project)
Five Themes of Geography (Source: Joint Committee on Geographic Education of the NCGE/AAG)