MARCH OF CIVILIZATION
In this era of the steam engine, motor car, electric locomotive and aeroplane, it may be hard even to think how difficult it was to travel two hundred years ago. In India, bullock carts bumped and carriages often sank as the axles got buried in mud, trying to negotiate a narrow side-track. In winter, the country roads were almost impassable. People who drove in carriages often lost their way in the dark in the absence of proper roads. Travelling in stage-coaches was uncomfortable and slow.
When better coaches were built, attempts were made to improve roads. Turnpike gates were established at various points on the prominent roads, and a toll was collected from coaches and carts. The income from the toll was spent on repairing roads. As travelling by stage-coaches grew popular, men began to think of improved ways and means of making and maintaining roads. A very clever blind man, John Metcalfe, popularized a new method of road construction. Two others, Macadam and Telford, improved on Metcalfe’s method. By 1815, most of the high roads in England had been metal led. These roads helped the coaches to travel faster than they were able to do twenty years before.
While good and strong roads were being constructed, various inventions were helping the progress of civilization. With the invention of the power loom, man spun yarn and produced cloth in large quantities. Cotton and woolen piece goods came to be manufactured by machines. With the invention of the steam-engine, trains and steamships carried goods to various parts of the world in lesser time.
Before good roads were constructed, goods were being carried either on rivers by boats or on horse-back. The Duke of Bridgewater was the first man to dig a canal for the transport of goods. The idea grew, and waterways and canals multiplied all over England. James Brindley constructed many canals and waterways.
The new machines were first worked by hand and later driven by water-wheels. They were built near rivers. When the water evaporated during summer, a method was needed for driving the machines. As a result of much thought and experiment, the steam engine came into existence.
James Watt, who is credited with inventing the steam engine, was very fond of mathematics when he was young. Completing his studies, he became a maker of mathematical instruments. The old steam engines of his day were clumsy and crude, and were used for pumping water out of coal-mines. So he invented a steam-engine that could generate power for the use of the spinning and weaving mills.
But canals and good roads were not enough in a country that was fast becoming highly industrialized. George Stephenson’s invention of the locomotive marked a new era in the industrial and social life of the world. As a boy Stephenson was greatly interested in pumping engines. In 1814, he made an engine that could run. It was called the Blucher and drew loads of coal from a colliery. A few years later, he made another engine which pulled thirty-four trucks of coal along a track at 15 miles an hour. A coach railway for passengers was inaugurated later. Stephenson’s Rocket, carrying passengers and running at 30 miles an hour, won for him a prize when he demonstrated to the people the utility of a locomotive in travelling.
This wonderful improvement in transport soon became popular. Other nations adopted it and, with the aid of the locomotive, trade and commerce advanced by leaps and bounds. Time and space were conquered, and poor people, finding the train cheaper, safer and speedier than other forms of transport, made increasing use of it. Today it is the most popular means of transport.