History of Transportation in the US

This timeline contains many highlights of the Forney Museum of Transportation’s collection, including pieces that are not always on display.

The Forney Museum’s artifacts have been organized chronologically and juxtaposed to significant events in US history generally, and transportation history more specifically. This gives the vehicles context to help users better understand when and how each vehicle was used. This tool is intended for educational purposes, and is supplemental to the educational tours offered at the Forney Museum. ;xNLx;

1780-01-01 00:00:00

The Industrial Revolution

Although beginning much earlier in Europe, industrialization did not really take off in the US until after the Civil War in the 1860s. The steam engine is one of the most significant inventions of the Industrial Revolution. The advances in production methods and materials, particularly steel, revolutionized the transportation industry and made all of our current forms of transportation possible.

1789-01-01 00:00:00

George Washington's Presidency

During George Washington’s presidency, the federal government began to take shape. Washington established the first cabinet including positions such as the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War. President Washington also oversaw the formation of the federal court system and the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution guaranteeing citizen freedoms such as freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, and the right to a speedy trial by peers.

1789-01-01 00:00:00

US Constitution Ratified

This document replaced the Articles of Confederation as the governing law of the United States of America. The Constitution set up three branches of government: the legislature, a bicameral law-making body that represents the different states, the judiciary, the court system, and the executive, comprising the president, vice president, and cabinet members. Each branch has specific duties and together they have checks and balances over the other two so that each branch is responsible to the rest of the government and the American people.

1801-01-01 00:00:00

Thomas Jefferson's Presidency

As the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson continued to explore the role of the federal and state governments. Jefferson limited the size of the government by reducing taxes and national debt, but increased its role by gaining the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803 which doubled the size of the country.

1810-01-01 00:00:00

Invention of the Bicycle

Although the exact details of the invention of the bicycle are not known, bicycles were clearly in use in Europe by 1817.

1812-06-18 00:00:00

War of 1812

In 1812, the United States under President James Madison, the United States declared war again the British. The causes of this declaration of war varied from the impressment of thousands of American sailors into the Royal Navy, British support for Native American groups that came in conflict with American settlers, and possible American interest in annexing British lands in Canada. The war finally came to an end with the Treaty of Ghent in 1815 which restored peace between the United States and Britain and brought relations back to their pre-war state.

1817-01-01 00:00:00

Draisienne Bicycle

This bicycle was invented in 1817 by a French grounds keeper, Baron Karl Von Drais. It has no pedals. This one in particular is actually a compilation of different draisienne parts from different eras!

1829-01-01 00:00:00

Andrew Jackson's Presidency

Assuming the presidency in 1830, President Jackson, or his nickname “Old Hickory”, radically changed the role of the executive during his two terms. Jackson destroyed the national banking system, instituted the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which forcibly removed Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to the west, and the Nullification Crisis when South Carolina refused to pay federal tariffs and threatened to secede. The President modified the tariff and returned South Carolina’s threat with military force. As Jackson left office, the Panic of 1837, a nationwide economic depression that lasted until 1844.

1848-01-24 00:00:00

Gold Rush

The Gold Rush, when settlers found gold in several western states causing many Americans to move out west and try their luck, started as early as 1848 in California, and lasted until 1861 in Colorado. The promise of gold was one of the most significant factors in large westward population shifts during the 19th Century.

1861-01-01 00:00:00

Abraham Lincoln's Presidency

During Lincoln’s presidency, the Civil War consumed all but six weeks. Lincoln successfully controlled the revolutionary forces unleashed by his election and southern secession, maintained the democratic principles of the United States, and gained a military victory with the Union finally winning the Civil War in 1865. President Lincoln’s term came to an end with his assassination at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865.

1861-04-12 00:00:00

United States Civil War

A complex and bloody military conflict, the Civil War in the United States began due to a variety of reasons including issues of slavery, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the existing sectionalism between the North and the South during this point in time. Once the southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy, the Civil War began with the Battle of Fort Sumter and ended with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. This war cost 1,030,000 lives by conservative estimates, both civilian and military. The Civil War resulted in the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 which made slavery illegal and the destruction of most of the wealth in the South.

1862-05-20 00:00:00

The Homestead Act

This law, signed by Abraham Lincoln, gave Americans 160 acres of public land, but required them to live on the land for five years before they officially owned it and show evidence of improvement. This legislation incentivized Western migration.

1863-01-01 00:00:00


The era of Reconstruction, the building back of the United States after the turmoil of the Civil War, contained two phases. The first phase, from 1863-1865, included moderate Reconstruction goals through President Lincoln and Vice President Andrew Johnson designed to bring the South back to normal as quickly as possible. This strategy included getting 10% of each southern state’s population to agree with Emancipation and then the state could elect new delegates and create a revised state constitution. However, after President Lincoln’s assassination, President Johnson was unable to control the Radical Republican congress and Reconstruction became stricter. Under Congressional Reconstruction, Republicans took control of each southern state, used the military to maintain control, enfranchised African American men, created the Freedmen’s Bureau to protect the rights of recently freed slaves, and imposed major taxes on southerners. By 1877, southern states had dislodged Republican control with evacuation of military forces from the south and newly-elected President Rutherford B. Hayes officially ended Reconstruction.

1869-01-01 00:00:00

First Transcontinental Railroad completed

In 1869, the Western, Central Pacific Railroad and the Eastern, Union Pacific met at Promontory Point Utah, joining these two major rail lines and creating, for the first time, a direct route from coast-to-coast. The completion of this railroad brought the American West firmly into the Union and made it easier for goods and people to travel one the east coast to the west coast.

1873-01-01 00:00:00

First Cable-Powered Public Transportation Line

The first cable-powered trolley was built in San Francisco, a city which is still known for its network of streetcars. Though cable-powered trolley cars were costly to maintain and required attention and physical strength to operate, they allowed for the creation of mass transit systems in many systems across the world.

1880-01-01 00:00:00

Horse-Drawn Hearse

This hearse was used in Iowa until 1945. This type of hearse was usually used for adults. The carriage can be drawn by one or two horses.

1882-01-01 00:00:00

Prairie Schooner

A precursor to cars, these were used by pioneers during the population movement from the east coast out to the unpopulated parts of the Western United States.

1885-01-01 00:00:00

English Road Coach (Holland & Holland)

Shipped from Cheltenham, England in 1960 to the United States, this private 18 passenger coach was used between Cheltenham and London. 4-5 horses pulled this coach. It is different from public road coaches because there is no metal "cage" on top of the carriage to strap luggage too, at least not heavy luggage; more like a picnic basket. Likewise with the back storage box is fitted to carry a picnic basket.

1887-01-01 00:00:00

Interstate Commerce Commission

The United States federal government created a commission to severely curb and regulate the railroad industry which had developed a reputation for corruption. With goals of ensuring fair rates, ending rate discrimination, and overall regulation, the ICC began with little means to enforce any new rules and became further limited by Congress in succeeding years.

1888-01-01 00:00:00

Denver Cable Car

Cable Cars allowed for the first major form of public transportation in the United States. These were a driving force in creating the first circles of suburbs in cities throughout the US (including Denver). They became popular because they could be placed on streets and could make the same tight turns as cars.

1890-01-01 00:00:00

The "Bicycle Boom"

Bicycles began to outnumber horses for the first time as the most popular form of private transportation. In 1896 there were approximately four million bicycles in use in the US.

1890-01-01 00:00:00

Brewster Omnibus

The Brewster Carriage Company was started in 1810 by James Brewster. Brewster gained a reputation for fine built carriages and by 1827 had branches in New Haven and Bridgeport as well as New York City. This carriage was used to ferry people to the opera from the hotel and back. It was also used to transport passengers to and from the train station.

1890-01-01 00:00:00

Surrey Carriage

A Surrey is a popular American four-wheeled carriage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The name Surrey comes from the county in Southern England where they were first built.

1897-01-01 00:00:00

The First American Subway Line

The Boston Elevated Railway Co. established the United States' first electric underground street railway line in Boston in 1897. The Tremont Street Subway (pictured) is the oldest subway tunnel in North America.

1897-01-01 13:06:13

Forney Locomotive 040-T

This train was patented by Matthias Forney, a 3rd cousin of museum founder JD Forney. They were often used on elevated railways. This one carried both passengers and freight in the Denver Area. Called “Little Giants” with 500 in service at the turn of the century.

1899-01-01 00:00:00

Columbia "Model 59" Bicycle

This bicycle was built by the Pope Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. This chainless drive bicycle makes use of a driveshaft. Wooden rims, cork handle grips, and a leather seat are also features on this bicycle.

1900-01-01 00:00:00

Moon Brothers Doctor's Buggy

This carriage was built in St. Louis, Missouri by the Moon Brothers Carriage Company. These lightweight buggies made house calls easier for the doctor (and the horse too).

1901-01-01 00:00:00

Theodore Roosevelt's Presidency

An icon of the Progressive Era in the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt focused his domestic policy on trust busting and successfully dissolved 44 monopolies. His “Square Deal” legislation regulated the railroad and food industries in order to create fairness between the average American customer and businessman. In foreign affairs, Roosevelt adopted a peacekeeping policy by negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 which led him to win the Nobel Peace Prize that year. Additionally, President Roosevelt negotiated United States control of the construction of the Panama Canal in 1904 which was completed and opened to the public in 1914.

1902-01-01 12:55:06

Illinois Sesquicentennial PB-1

This train was built by Pullman with a wood-bodied parlor-lounge-observation car. In 1967 it was sold to Sol Polk of the Polk Brothers in Illinois and he and his brothers retrofitted the car as a luxury dining car with all of the amenities available at the time.

1903-01-01 00:00:00

Oldsmobile Model "R" Runabout

Although the invention of the assembly-line and mass production of the automobile is generally associated with Henry Ford, this “curved dash” Oldsmobile was actually the first mass-produced car in America, built with interchangeable parts, a full decade before Ford’s assembly line.

1903-12-17 00:00:00

Wrights Demonstrate Airplane

The Wright Brothers made history when Orville Wright became the first person to take flight in the airplane that they built at Kitty Hawk. Though not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, their invention of aircraft controls that made fixed-wing flight possible allowed for human flight.

1904-01-01 00:00:00

Denver Streetcar

This streetcar replaced the cable car on the streets of downtown Denver and was in use until 1946. This car was run by a conductor and a motorman. This car also has vintage advertisements displayed at the top of the car.

1904-01-01 00:00:00

Knox Tudor Surrey

This open “runabout” body has plush leather seats and tiller steering. With an air cooled engine, the motor is neatly attached to the undercarriage under the front seat. The door in the back is for access to the passenger seating area.

1905-01-01 00:00:00

Franklin Type "A" Runabout

The 1905 Franklin was marketed as a luxury car, and came in six different models. It was praised for its high speeds, and strong racing performance.

1905-01-01 00:00:00

Ford Model "F" Chassis

Long before Ford implemented the assembly line method of production, making automobile ownership accessible to the common American, Ford took pride in their cars being the best value available at the time. An add for the 1905 Model “F” (which was being sold for $1200) told buyers that, “If you are thinking of buying a $700 or $800 car, put a few hundred with it and get a Ford Model F. If you think a $2000 to $2500 car is necessary, save $800 to $1200 and buy a Ford Model F.”

1906-01-01 00:00:00

Cadillac Model "M" Victoria Touring

1906-01-01 00:00:00

Pope-Tribune Model V/VI

1906-01-01 12:55:06


The Caboose began as a flat car with a shelter covering only the cooking fire, later the popular vision of the caboose as a box car emerged. Cabooses served as a home for the rail crew, especially the conductor. Many workers decorated and cared for this car as they would have their own.

1907-01-01 00:00:00

Nyberg Model 35 Touring Limousine

This limousine had two bodies made of wood. A summer open touring body and a winter body shown here. You could trade them out as the seasons changed. There are only two known Nyberg automobiles that exist to this day.

1908-01-01 00:00:00

Sears Runabout

Sears promoted their “motor-buggy” as a practical and affordable vehicle for the average man’s needs. It only reached a top speed of about 25 mph, unlike the more powerful cars of the time designed for racing that could get up to 40 or 50 mph. However, Sears claimed their vehicle was safe and reliable, perfect for most people’s daily needs.

1908-01-01 00:00:00

Overland Model 24 Runabout

1908-01-01 00:00:00

Production of the Model-T begins

Often credited as the first affordable car and the car that made driving possible for middle-class America, the production of Model-T Fords switched to an assembly line instead of the individual hand-crafted method of previous cars. This efficient production model brought car prices down and made them more widely available to American consumers where they had mostly expensive luxury items prior. This mass consumption of automobiles led to better road construction and regulations in following decades.

1909-01-01 00:00:00


1909-01-01 00:00:00

REO Runabout

REO Motor Car Company was founded by Ransom Eli Olds in 1904. You might recognize this last name as the Oldsmobile brand. He founded that company in August of 1897. In 1904 Ransom left Olds Motor Works and founded REO (his initals). The 1 cylinder engine produces 10 to 12 horsepower. REO's production of 1 cylinder cars ended around 1910.

1909-01-01 02:40:44

UNIC Taxicab

UNIC Car Company was started by George Richard in Puteaux, France. Many of the UNIC cars produced were used as taxis. This vehicle, along with other taxis in France, was conscripted during WWI to help with the war effort in the Battle of Marne in Northern France. This vehicle was used to taxi soldiers from Paris to the Battle of the Marne. On return trips it brought wounded soldiers to hospitals in Paris.

1912-01-01 00:00:00

Buick Model 35 Touring Car

1912-01-01 00:00:00

Metz Roadster Model 22

The Standard Model 22 roadster initially sold for $600 fully equipped in 1912. The seat on the back was an add-on from the company that bolts onto the tool box.

1912-01-01 00:00:00

Vauxhall Randoulet Overland Coach

1912-01-01 00:00:00

Renault Opera Coupe

As far as we know, this is the only Renault “Opera Coupe” in existence. The chassis was built in France, the body was a custom job by Quimby in the US. Like many automakers of the time in both Europe and America, Renault built only the chassis, which was then shipped to private coachbuilders for finishing. This method was employed well into the 1930’s.

1912-04-14 00:00:00

The Sinking of the Titanic

The RMS Titanic set out on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 from Southampton, United Kingdom to New York City. This was the largest ship afloat at the time and represented the best of naval technology and luxury. On April 14th, the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean which opened her airtight compartments to the ocean. Over the course of that night, women and children evacuated into lifeboats leaving a large number of men still on board. Around 2:20 am, the ship broke apart, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 crew members and passengers. The sinking of the RMS Titanic remains one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.

History of Transportation in the US

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