Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Smithsonian, Transportation, and Napoleon

A couple of weeks ago we studied about John Quincy Adams, whose remarkable career was lackluster in his presidency, according to the historian we read. Although Quincy was highly educated and experienced, with an impressive resume, his Congress worked against him, dismantling his vision for America, which included transportation improvements. Much of his efforts finally came to fruition, after his presidency. Quincy's greatest influence was before and after his presidency, some of which I've previously blogged about, like his work in Congress after the presidency.

After reading about Quincy in To The Best of My Ability, about the terms of each of the presidents, we read a book on the Erie Canal which resulted from the work of New York's Governor DeWitt Clinton. When my kids were younger we took them to this canal in Rome, NY where we rode an 1820's canal boat pulled by mules! And we of course sang about a mule named Sal. The canal boat man led us in song and explained the words, "Low bridge, everybody down!" When they went under a bridge, you'd better lay down so you don't get whacked! It was amazing back then that the elite dressed in fine clothes to ride atop the canal boats. They were quite a sensation creating many a social event...after they were finally built.

The planning process involved a trip to Europe to study the engineering of their canals. Then the work of digging took years, causing disgruntled critics who lost hope to call it "Clinton's Ditch." Finally it was finished and it worked! It revolutionized America. We read about Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant who were thrilled to ride the canal in its early years.

The exodus west increased.

Then the railroad came to town, giving stiff competition to the canals. We got to see one of the very first locamotives in America at the Smithsonian last weekend. The John Bull locamotive was made in England and shipped to America in 1831, during President Jackson's term. In many of our books, while reading about Jackson and Grant, we read of their excitement when they got to travel on the railroad! Jackson was the first president to ride the railroad.

The John Bull locamotive arrived in pieces, waiting to be assembled, which no one knew how to do. Using know-how from canal boats, the locamotive was assembled and tested on a short track. Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Napoleon-Lucien-Charles-Murat attended festivities for this steam powered marvel. You might have met his mother recently, at our Napoleonic history presentation! His mother was Caroline Bonaparte Murat who financed the excavations of Pompeii! Murat's wife got to ride the locamotive, becoming the first woman in America to have an opportunity to ride steam power such as this!

In 1981, the Smithsonian took the John Bull to a length of track in Virginia to see if she still had some get-up-and-go. At the link is a movie of the smooth and gorgeous run of the 150 year old engine.




I loved the wood on the locamotive. It's the most beautiful engine I've ever seen.


It is displayed on an actual length of track from the first iron railroad bridge in America from 1845.


A fun movie to watch with the kids, when learning about 1820's transportation, is Davy Crockett and the River Pirates with Fess Parker. The King of the Wild Frontier meets the King of the Mississippi, Mike Fink, in a race to New Orleans. Then they joined forces to combat river pirates. The boats they use look much like a canal boat and operating one is not easy, which is hilariously showcased in the movie. Meanwhile travel on the Mississippi was another doorway to the west, which the Americans, French and British all battled over throughout the history of the New World. Transportation is a great unit for kids to study, and seeing some of it at the Smithsonian was great!

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