The Expanding Nation

photo mural of stagecoaches traveling in the countryside

In the early 19th century, the United States seemed a land of boundless promise and possibility. The federal government believed that the acquisition of territory was of little use unless those lands could be exploited, especially the sparsely-traveled region between the Mississippi River and the west coast settlements. Stagecoach companies, funded largely through mail contracts, helped to secure those areas, turning meager trails into well-traveled roads. Just as the frontier military forts gave emigrants a better sense of security the somewhat regular appearance of the mail coach connected them to the rest of the world.

As they enterThe Expanding Nation,museum visitors follow a unique timeline into 19th-century America. The timeline uses reproductions of letters sent from new American territories to chart the nation's growth.

In 1823 Congress declared all steamboat routes to be "postal routes," allowing steamboat companies to obtain mail contracts. 

Before mail traveled across America's western frontier, it was carried by clipper ships traveling around Cape Horn and steamships that could cut transportation time to under two months. 

This Surface Table interactive challenges visitors to choose a route and vehicle to carry the mail across the nation as quickly, safely, and cheaply as possible.