Did you know that in 1849, steamboats began to travel between New York and San Francisco? The first steamboat, took 4 months and 22 days to complete the trip. Early routes traveled around South America to get to San Francisco. Later, people would travel to Panama; then travel overland by canoe, mule, or train to the Pacific side; and catch another steamboat from Panama to San Francisco. The California Gold Rush made the journey very popular. By the time the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, more than 800,000 people made the trip by steamboat from the East Coast to California.
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The need for steamboat routes started in the 1848 after the United States acquired California and Oregon, opening the West Coast for expansion.
The first steamboat to make the trip was the SS California. News of the California Gold Rush broke while the ship was on the way to California. Hundreds clamored for passage from Panama City to San Francisco. When the ship arrived, much of the crew also deserted to join the Gold Rush and it took months to enlist a new crew for the return voyage.
The completion of the Panama Railroad in 1855 made the trip across the Panama Isthmus much quicker and more reliable
Most of the $50 million of gold found in California each year made the trip using steamboats and the Panama route.
The Transcontinental Railroad shortened the journey from East Coast to West Coast to just 84 hours. Now a nonstop flight from New York to San Francisco takes about 7 hours.