Our travels are worth it: Part 1


Transportation is one of a handful of technologies that has enormous impact on our society and individual lives, and it’s important to have a basic understanding of its history to appreciate how far it’s advanced, the impact it has on present day and the role that it will play in future.

Sometime during the course of history, early humans began to move about on two feet. Over time they developed the ability to walk and run. Early humans lived a nomadic lifestyle while hunting and gathering their food and water. They followed the locations of available plants and migration paths of animals, natural geological formations (such as rivers or valleys) while also migrating with the most comfortable weather. They had to carry any additional items besides the clothes they wore, and their own power was the only conveniently available energy, so moving food and water was a constantly difficult task. If you have ever gone camping you know how this is true.

I imagine another of the first, heavier, loads humans carried in their arms was young children. If you have carried around even a young child you know how heavy they can become! Back then, as now, humans understood how difficult transportation was when carrying an additional load.

As humans continued to produce more and more artifacts, the need for more capable transportation also grew. They had a need for technology to improve their lives because it was and still is too difficult to move things on their own. Unlike the Ford F-150, we have very limited cargo capacity. People began inventing transportation technology and we have been transporting ourselves and our artifacts around the earth ever since.

Transportation technology is the act of moving people and goods over and through land, water, air, and space, and each has evolved over time from simple and slow to faster and more complex systems. Transportation systems are comprised of vehicles, the pathways the vehicles follow, and the infrastructure that supports the system.

The very first transportation systems evolved on land. An early example of land transportation is the sledge, or sled. This simple device that was dragged over the ground is one of the earliest tools for transporting loads. Can you imagine needing to pull all of your possessions over the ground on a sled? Obviously this was much easier in winter when there was some snow on the ground, or if there is an existing worn path to follow.

Pathways and “roads” began to develop. Humans domesticated beasts of burden such as mules and oxen to assist with transporting even heavier loads further distances. As animals were used, more technology was needed to enhance the operation and control of the vehicles, so support systems such as blacksmiths and wheelwrights were needed.

Nearly simultaneously to the development of land transportation, humans invented water transportation. Animal skins and raw materials from plants were used to fabricate boats to accommodate the dangers of water. Using boats, large and deep bodies of water may be traversed with relatively small amounts of human energy. We learned how to move larger and larger loads faster and further by harnessing the powerful energy in the wind. Enormous migration and change was caused by European explorers using sailing ships to explore the world.

Check out the Wednesday, July 27 edition of the Rochelle News-Leader to read the rest of this column.

Kurt Wolter has studied and taught technology, including production, transportation, energy, and communication, for over 30 years. He enjoys trying to relate technology’s past, present, and future while also attempting journalism. He can be reached at [email protected].

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