Transport and communications during the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution saw a dramatic improvement in transport and communications. However, historians debate just how much of this change really took place during the Industrial Revolution. Many developments in transport had already been made beforehand.

Transport developments: Steam-powered vehicles, telegrams, a car and a penny farthing.

This involved innovation, capital investment and increased extent:


  • General Wade, Jack Metcalf, Thomas Telford and John Macadam developed better roads, with firm foundations, drainage and a smooth surface.
  • Ever since the 17th Century, Turnpike Trusts were set up to improve main roads, for which a toll was charged. This pre-dates the standard period of the Industrial Revolution.
  • In the early 1800s, investment in Britain's roads was more than £3 million a year.
  • Between 1803 and 1821, Thomas Telford alone built 1000 miles of road, including 1000 bridges. His greatest achievement was the London‒Holyhead road (1815‒1826). However, others had already been building new roads over the past several hundred years.


  • Some people argue that the first modern canal was the Sankey Brook Navigation. It was used to transport coal which links directly to the Industrial Revolution. Others say it was the Bridgewater Canal built by the Duke of Bridgewater in 1761.
  • About £20 million was invested in canal-building between 1755 and 1835. There was 'Canal Mania' in the 1790s and famous canal-builders include James Brindley and Thomas Telford.
  • The fact that more money was now spent on canals could be seen as a natural development as the country gets richer and trade is more necessary.
  • By 1850, the canal network covered 4,000 miles.
  • However, canals had existed long before this period. The Exeter Canal had been built way back in 1566. It is the viewpoint of some that the developments made during the Industrial Revolution were no different to those made beforehand.


  • The first railway was the Stockton and Darlington Railway (1825). George Stephenson built the Rocket (1829). Significant engineering achievements included the London Underground (1863) and the Forth Bridge (1890).
  • There was a 'Railway Mania' in the 1840s. £3 billion was spent building the railways between 1845 and 1900.
  • In 1870, 423 million passengers travelled on 16,000 miles of line.
Faked photograph, purporting to be of George Stephenson and the Rocket steam locomotive.
George Stephenson's Rocket

Other developments in transport and communications

Timeline of transport and communication:

1837 - Samuel Morse invented the telegraph.

1837 - Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp.

1839 - Kirkpatrick Macmillan invented the bicycle.

1843 - Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the Great Britain steamship (using screw propellers).

1876 - Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.

1885 - Karl Benz invented the motor car.