Wagoners of the Alleghenies

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WAGONERS OF THE ALLEGHENIES transported merchandise from the ports of the East to the trade centers of the West and returned with agricultural products; they rose to prominence during 1810 to 1820, but finally succumbed to the competition of the railroads. Their chief routes were the Pennsylvania Road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and the Cumberland Road from Baltimore to Wheeling. Their wagons, referred to as Conestoga or Pittsburgh wagons, were about twenty feet long, six to eight feet wide; powered by teams of six or eight horses, they could carry loads of over 6,000 pounds.

There were two classes of wagonersregulars and sharpshooters. Regulars engaged in hauling the year round; sharpshooters were farmers who, when freight rates were high, undertook hauling for short periods. Sharpshooters paid higher tolls because their ordinary farm wagons had narrow-rimmed wheels that cut up the road. The regulars' wagons had broad-rimmed wheels. Wagoners traveled about fifteen miles a day, more for sharpshooters, and stayed overnight at taverns along the road.

Wagoners ran a brisk and profitable traffic through the Alleghenies; in 1822 a congressman estimated that 5,000 wagons had passed over the southern road that year, and in 1836, during a period of five weeks, thirty wagons passed daily over the northern road. Rivalry with canals caused the wagoners to form associations or to join transportation lines; and competition from the railroads forced the wagoners out of a large share of the business shortly before the Civil War.


Raitz, Karl, ed. The National Road. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Shumway, George. Conestoga Wagon, 17501850. York, Pa.: G. Shumway and Early American Industries Association, 1966.

John W. Harpster / a. r.

See also Allegheny Mountains, Routes Across ; Baltimore Bell Teams ; Connestoga Wagon ; Pack Trains .