Since the dawn of time, mankind has sought to travel further and faster from his immediate domain to hunt, wage war, to work or explore, or simply for the thrill of greater speed.
No one is absolutely certain when mans relationship with the horse began. Chariot burials confirm the horse has shared mans life since 2,000 B.C.. Other emerging evidence is suggesting that the relationship may have started much earlier between 2,500-3,000 B.C. on the Eurasian Steppes. For many millennia man has used the horse for hunting, transport, war, sport and as a beast of burden. A vast infrastructure of blacksmiths, farriers, fodder supply and stabling grew to support mankind’s use of the horse which in comparative historical terms, disappeared overnight with the discovery of steam power.
First riding bareback, later with saddles, mankind quickly harnessed the power and speed of the horse to travel further afield and migrate as never before.
By adding wheels to a box the chariot was created and used either as the sports car of its day, or as a weapon of war.
Hitching a horse to a cart allowed the movement of goods both large and small and in so doing, laid the foundations of the transport industry.
The advent of the stagecoach allowed long distance travel to those that could afford it. The journey from London to Exeter still took five days with overnight stops at coaching inns. Traffic hazards in the form of robbery by highwaymen were ever present.
For well to do families, personal horse and carriages were all the rage, preferably with ones own coachman.
In terms of wealth, the personal carriage marked a great distinction between those that had and those that had not. This picture of King George V being challenged by a beggar at Epsom Race course on Derby Day 1920 is a striking example of the differences in society.
The horse drawn bus was a cross between the stagecoach and a cart. It also represented the beginning of the end of eons of mass horse utilisation. Limitations in the ability to compete with the ever growing need for speed and pulling power provided by electric motors, steam and the combustion engine, led to the natural phasing out of the horse as a work engine.
The Hansom Cab provided a swifter method of transport on medium journeys for two people. These cabs were the forerunner of the modern taxi.
The latter half of the 19th century saw the emergence of more affordable and personalised forms of transport. At first leg powered and later with engines added.
Early bicycles tended to be more of a practical novelty rather than a serious form of transport. The Hobby-Horse or Velocipede was in effect like a toy scooter with a seat on it.
The Penny Farthing was one of the first bicycles to utilise leg power. Learning to ride became an acquired skill and the bicycle worked on the principle of the large wheel multiplying the smaller pedal movement. There were no brakes.
The bicycle rapidly developed into a more practicable and comfortable shape. A large crank wheel was added to the pedals which turned via a connecting chain a smaller gear on the driving wheel. Additional refinements in the form of multiple gearing were later added as were the all important brakes.
Bicycles rapidly became an affordable method of transport with little maintenance costs. Bicycles allowed people the freedom to travel much further at no cost. Cycling clubs became very popular allowing people to leave urban environments for the pleasure of touring the countryside.
Some bicycles were fitted with small engines in an attempt to make them power assisted. This type of bicycle-engine only enjoyed limited success.
More radical thinkers realised it was more efficient not to try to modify the bicycle but to start again with new designs where wheels were attached to more powerful engines. Hence the creation of the motorcycle or motorbike.
Attempts to power carriages by steam led to the creation of steam powered cars but these proved somewhat dirty and inefficient to operate leading to short lived success.
Steam powered lorries or trucks were however initially successful. The power to weight ratio allowed for the transporting of heavy loads. Eventually a mixture of taxation and Government regulation led to their eventual demise. Some steam lorries did however continue operating into the 1960’s.
Early cars or automobiles were expensive only affording ownership to the more affluent. The design of early cars was still influenced by the horse carriage where the driver, normally a chauffer sat apart or even in the open away from the passengers. Most cars of this era were also hand built.
Henry Ford was an entrepreneur who realised vehicles could be made more easily and cheaply using production line techniques. His Model T Ford brought car ownership to the masses in the USA. Other car makers around the world quickly followed his production methods.
The emergence of reliable public road and rail transport powered by coal, electricity, gas or later diesel engines allowed people to live much further distances from their places of work than ever before. This phenomena caused a sudden expansion of house building outside towns and cities creating suburbs and industrial areas on what was previous arable lands and fields. Easier movement within towns and cities also greatly boosted the growth of commerce.
The invention of the petrol combustion engine allowed horse drawn buses to transform into larger omnibuses to carry more people further and faster than before.
Electric power also allowed faster trams previously drawn by horse to appear. Once again the great advantage being the ability to swiftly transport more passengers over greater distances.
As engineering skills advanced omnibuses were transformed into more modern and comfortable buses.
The electric tram was replaced by the electric bus or Trolleybus. This had the advantage of more manoeuvrability in rapidly growing congested streets than the track bound tram. The overhead cabling system still limited where the Trolleybus could travel.
Ever since the mining engineer George Stephenson created the Rocket, the first commercial steam powered locomotive engine in 1825, fast growing railway systems rapidly spread their tentacles across the world. The gauge or width of most railway track in different countries is 4 feet 8½ inches (1,435 mm). The track width was determined by hitherto unconsidered historical events. Railway engineers first approached existing builders of horse drawn carriages to build the first railway carriages.
Many carriage builders already had jigs set up to assist in the speed of carriage construction and the principle consideration for the spacing width of the wheels was determined by the spacing of deep ruts in the earth road surface caused by centuries of cart and carriage use. These ruts were first formed by Roman chariots during their occupation of Britain.
Most early railway carriages were in effect a series of horse carriages placed end on end to each other and joined. It was the width of these carriages that determined the gauge of the rail track. As new rail companies in countries around the world were formed, including the U.S.A., British rail engineers were normally employed as they were the leaders in rail and track technology at that time. All of these British engineers kept to the 4 feet 8½ inch gauge making this gauge almost universal.
It is unlikely the Roman Empire could have foreseen the consequences of their occupation two thousand years in the future. The width of rail track being determined by the width of two horses harnessed side by side in the shafts of a Roman chariot.
Stephenson’s Rocket steam locomotive preserved in the Science Museum in London. This was the worlds first commercial railway engine.
A replica of the first railway carriage in the National Railway Museum in York. The clear influence of the horse drawn carriage can be seen in its construction.
Third class carriages were simple open trucks.
Steam engines rapidly grew in size and power enabling ease of travel across countries. Long journey times were cut from days to hours.
Carriage design also rapidly evolved to allow practicable and comfortable seating arrangements. Protection against the elements and cold were also afforded.
The rapid transport of goods by train proved to be very profitable to the railway companies. As a consequence, the hitherto flourishing countrywide canal system for transporting goods fell into serious decline.
Streamlining of long distance trains like the Mallard allowed for increased speed and consequent reduced journey times. The Mallard represented the zenith of steam locomotive technology after which diesel and electric powered locomotives replaced the limitations of steam power.
Mankind’s desire to soar like an eagle or to fly like a bird goes as far back in time as history itself. Many have tried and many have died in mankind’s compelling obsession to reach the heavens. Many unsuccessful attempts became entwined in mythology until 1903 when two brothers both bicycle engineers, Orville and Wilbur Wright designed and created the first successful flying machine.
In Greek mythology a father and son, Daedalus and Icarus were the first two people to fly. Tragedy supposedly fell this first flight when Icarus flew too close to the sun and the heat melted the wax holding the feathers of the wing in place. Icarus then fell to his doom.
Two French brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier were the first people to prove with their hot air balloon, that mankind no longer need to be earthbound. The picture shows a test flight at the Palace of Versailles in 1783 before King Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette. The main disadvantage with the hot air balloon being it was at the mercy of the wind and the inability to carry fuel to keep it aloft.
Other inventors not wanting to be outdone quickly started creating a wide variety of bizarre looking aircraft.
It is clear from the design of these early aircraft, there was little knowledge of the laws of aerodynamics.
Many inventors simply did not understand power to weight and lift ratio. Many seemed to think the more wings the better.
Once a better understanding of aerodynamics and control occurred, aircraft design surge forward in leaps and bounds, spurred on by the necessities of World War I. An example of this is the tri-wing Fokker aircraft flow by Baron von Richthofen, (the Red Baron), in his Flying Circus.
Another aircraft, the bi-wing Avro 504 showed the more sleeker lines that were developing in aircraft design.
The graceful lines of the Spitfire showed that mono-wing aircraft were more manoeuvrable and faster than multiple-winged aircraft.
Passenger air travel also became popular for those that could afford it. Often early passenger aircraft were quite basic as this picture of a Sikorsky aircraft shows.
Sea planes were also designed with this great leviathan of an aircraft made by Dornier. It was planned to carry even more passengers.
Large gas filled dirigibles known as Zeppelins were first designed as a military weapon. Later adapted for passenger use, they did not prove successful due to the highly flammable hydrogen gas used to make it lighter than air. A series of fatal disasters spelled the end of the Zeppelin.
In 1952, the De-Havilland Comet was introduced into service. It was the first passenger aircraft powered by jet engines making long distance flight a reality.