Address by Honorable William C. Redfield, Secretary of Commerce at Conference (Illustrated)by US Government US Government
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Mr. Chapin and Gentlemen: It would be a truism to say that I have always been interested in transportation. It has always been a subject of keen interest to me, I presume, because I was born with it. By the fortune of birth I came to live in a region where transportation has been through every one of its stages in this country. If you go back into the history of the Colonies, you will find the two first lines of through transportation in America were east and west—the St. Lawrence River and the Lakes—while for over a century the one great central north and south line was the Hudson River, Lake George, and Lake Champlain. In that entire length from the St. Lawrence to New York Harbor there was but about 13 miles that could not be traveled by water with such boats as they used. You will recall that great historic events of our early history centered about this transportation line. Burgoyne's surrender, Arnold's treason, the great contests of the French wars, Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain were all associated with this water route. Such names as Montcalm, Schuyler, and Champlain are linked to it. Historically, it is true both for war and peace that transportation has been formative and controlling in our national life. One of the early evidences of the growth of transportation in this country, and therefore of our national progress, was the act of connecting the Great Lakes by the Erie Canal with the Hudson River.
The largest number of railroad tracks paralleling any navigable stream follows to-day the line of the Hudson. There are six much of the way—four tracks on one side and two on the other. I am going to make that historical line of water and rail transportation the basis for a little study with you, to see what the normal development of transportation is, and whether, as I believe, the particular form that concerns you is a natural outgrowth of all that has gone before. If it is so it is here to stay. If in the process of transportation evolution we have reached the normal use of the highway, together with the waterway and the railway, then you are doing a constructive work for your country. But if that work is not normal, if you are trying to impose upon the body politic something strange and artificial, then your work will, and ought to, fail.
The transportation system of the United States is not a unity. It can not be run on what we may call unitarian lines. It is a trinity, and has to be run on trinitarian lines. You must link up railways and waterways and highways to get a perfect transportation system for this country. If there were no railroads we would have little transportation. If there were no waterways there would be insufficient transportation. If we had an abundance of railways and waterways and lacked the use of highways, we should have imperfect transportation. We should fail to bring it to every man's door, and it must be brought to every man's door to be perfect.
The early transportation in the Hudson River Valley was by sloop. The history of the river is full of the traditions from the old sloop days, when it was sometimes five and sometimes nine days from New York to Albany by water. The river was just as navigable then as it is now; the difference lies in the tool that was used. Now in that use of the fit tool for the route lies the whole truth in transportation, and yet so far as I know the full bearing of the application of the tool to the job is almost new to our discussions of the several phases of transportation. In due time comes Robert Fulton and the Clermont begins to flap flap her weary 36 hours from New York to Albany. A new tool but the same route. In time she passed into a more modern type. The steamboat developed, and came the canal with its mule power. How strange it seems in these days to think of mule power ever having been considered. Yet I have in my possession a letter to the constructing engineer of the Erie Railroad urging that it should be operated by horses between New York and Buffalo and giving 10 very excellent reasons why horses were far better than steam locomotives could be. It took a lot of argument to keep the horses off the Erie Railroad.
Came the steam locomotive. Now the rail was not new any more than the river was new. The railroad or tramway in England is far back, earlier than the railroad in America. There were tracks laid many years before anybody thought of a locomotive engine. The invention lies not in the railway but in the tool put upon it. Again the principle of the tool to the job. Also a new principle that the way, whether it was waterway or railway or highway must adapt itself also to the most effective kind of tool that could be put upon it. You could apply it but partially to the river. When canals came along later, it became apparent that you must not only have the best tool for your waterway, but must suit the latter also to the tool.
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