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Roads and road transport


In the 17th and 18th c. all over Europe new roads and bridges began to be built, often based on Roman designs, without much useful innovation in road building. Many however were not laid out for industrial and commercial, but rather for military purposes.

In the last half of the 18th century the fathers of modern road building and road maintenance appeared in France, with Pierre-Marie-Jérôme Trésaguet (1716-1796 ) and in Britain Thomas Telford (1757-1834) and John Loudon McAdam (1756 - 1836).
The actual process of road building has changed dramatically over the past century, going from large gangs of workers with picks and shovels to enormous specialized machines.

Beginning in the 1840s, the rapid development of railroads brought the construction roads to a virtual halt. For the next 60 years, road improvements were essentially confined to city streets or to feeder roads to railheads. Many rural roads became impassable in wet weather. 

The situation changed again when motor cars and bicycles appeared.
Predecessors of the bicycle, the 'draisines' and 'velocipedes' appeared between 1817 and 1820, the high-wheel bicycles in the 1870s, and the first 'safety bicycles' in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1870 Siegfried Marcus built the first gasoline powered combustion engine, which he placed on a pushcart, and in 1885, Karl Benz developed a petrol or gasoline powered automobile.
The owners of the first 'cars and bicycles were rather wealthy citizens from the higher classes of society wanted to drive on safe and comfortable surfaces - which influenced road building. Later the new forms of moving around changed the lifes of all classes.

Canal du Midi

harbourboat lift.

Canals and harbours

While travelling and transporting voluminous goods on muddy and rough roads, for a long time in coaches and carriages withouth suspension, was neither comfortable neither efficient, barges on rivers offered the best solution till the mid 19th c. Water transport of goods and raw materials was also several times cheaper and faster than transport overland.

The first artificial canal in Western Europe was the Fossa Carolina built at the end of the 8th century under personal supervision of Charlemagne. Canal building was revived in this age because of commercial expansion from the 12th century especially in the flat, highly populated and industrious County of Flanders and adjacent regions - where before the  the first canal networks connected towns and economic centres. The Lieve-canal, connecting Ghent with the Scheldt and the North Sea was dug between 1251 and 1269.

The heydays of the European canals started in the 17th and 18th centuries when various countries were developing their internal trade. Most famous were the Briare Canal connecting the Loire and Seine (1642), and the Canal du Midi (1683) connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, which included a flight of 8 locks at Béziers, a 157 metres (515 ft) tunnel and three major aqueducts. Canal building speeded up during the first decades of the Industrial Revolution Impressive lock systems, canal tunnels and aqueducts, boat lifts and waterway infrastructures were built. Canal building slowed down when railways became their main competitors.- but on the continent canal development never ended. A proof is the plan which is now being carried out to connect Seine and Scheldt via an inland waterway.

From the second half and especially since the last quarter of the 19th c. one saw an impressive growth of sea harbours and transport by sea between the continents

Canals and harbours have an important heritage to put into the focus - not only ships and boats in museums or safeguarded by associations and individuals, but also all the civil engineering connected to them, bridges, canal tunnels, boat lifts, locks and lock keeper's houses, quays, warehouses, harbour cranes, shipyards,...

Stephensonsteam locomotivetram



Wagonways (or tramways), with wooden rails and horse-drawn traffic, are known to have been used in the 1550s to facilitate transportation in mines. In 1784 James Watt patented a design for a steam locomotive, and in the same year his employee William Murdoch produced a working model of a self-propelled steam carriage.
Twenty years later Richard Trevithick built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive and on 21 February 1804, his locomotive hauled a train in the Penydarren ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. He also showed his  engine, the Catch Me Who Can, on a piece of circular rail track in London, but because of it weight it never got a practical use.
From 1814 onwards George Stephenson, experimented with steam locomotion on rails. In 1825 he built the ‘Locomotion’ for the Stockton and Darlington Railway , and in 1829 the Rocket
Six years later, on May 5th 1835, the first passenger railway on the continent was opened between the Belgian towns of Brussels and Mechelen.
In 1850 most of the European countries had established railway connections.
The first railway in Germany opened on December 7 1834 between Nuremberg and Fürth, the Bavarian Ludwigsbahn. The first passenger steam railway in France, the Paris-Saint Germain Line dates from 1837. The Netherlands (between Amsterdam and Haarlem) and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (between Naples and Portici) got their railway in 1839, Poland in 1844v (Warsaw - Pruszków), Hungary 1846 (Pest - Vác), Spain 1848 (Barcelona-Mataró),...
On November 6th 1842, a first train crossed a border by rail between Mouscron (Belgium) and Tourcoing (France), which was a part of connection between Lille, Ghent and Antwerp. In
1846 the first international railway connection between two capitals, Paris and Brussels, was established.

Transport on rails, trains, trams in towns, underground lines,... marked the transport revolution of the 19th century and left us an impressive heritage of railway stations, old and derelict lines (now sometimes 'green corridors'), bridges and tunnels, and the engines, wagons and tools in museums and kept alive by hundreds of volunteers on heritage and tourist railways









Blériot 1909

Concorde 1989

In the air and in space


On November 21, 1783 Pilâtre de Rozier and the marquis d'Arlandes were the first people to take off in a hot-air balloon. The balloon stayed in the air for 25 minutes, glided over Paris and made a smooth landing 8 kilometers further.
This had the same importance as the first gliding flight of Otto Lilienthal (1891), the first flight with a motor-powered aircraft by Orville Wright (1903) and the first human in space (Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, 12 April). 1961).

In Europe, many aeronautic  experiments were also conducted at the beginning of the last century to take off with aircraft heavier than the air, including Robert Esnault-Pelterie and Léon Levavasseur in France, and by S.F. Cody in Britain. In 1905, the Voisin brothers built the first aircraft factory in Billancourt, France. On September 25, 1909, a first international aviation exhibition took place at the Grand Palais in Paris, organized by the new 'Chambre Syndicale des Industries Aéronautiques'.

It was the beginning of an aviation industry.
Today aeronautics is one of the EU's key high-tech sectors on the global market, providing more than 500,000 jobs and generates a turnover of close to EUR 140 billion (in 2013). The EU is a world leader in the production of civil aircraft, including helicopters, aircraft engines, parts and components.

But in those early years flying was a privilege for the rich upperclass - the same people who before could afford a bike and a car. The first associations of aviation pioneers arose in the salons of the Automobile Clubs ... But flying was not a ‘sport’ for long.
Aircraft and airships, the Zeppelins, acquired a strategic role during the First World War. On the night of 2 to 3 September 1916, London suffered a major air strike. Sixteen German zeppelins,  one of which was shot down by a British plane, aimed military and industrial targets around the British capital.

After the First World War, aeronautical technology developed rapidly, and the aircraft gradually evolved into an all-in workhorse for long-distance connections, for mail, goods, and passengers.

On April 3, 1925, a three-engine biplane Handley-Page, nicknamed "Princesse Marie-Josée" landed in Kinshasa (then 'Leopoldville') and completed the first fligth between Brussels and Congo. The aircraft left Brussels in mid-February and completed its journey under the command of Lt. Thieffry in 75 hours or flying time (over 50 days). Today it takes 8 hours...
Charles Lindberg flew on May 20 and 21, 1927 with his 'Spirit of St. Louis' as the first pilot solo and non-stop from New York to Paris - today this takes about 7 hours.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's ‘Vol the Nuit’, about the heroic air mail pilots in South Amzerica was published in 1930.
During the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian aircraft that supported Franco were often decisive. On April 26, 1937, Guernica was bombed. The battle in the air was decisive for during The Battle of Britain (July-October 1940). Civilians suffered bombings during the German Baedeker Blitz (April-May 1942) who wanted to destroy British historical monuments - as a revenge on the Royal Air Force's (RAF) bombing offensive and the bombing of Lübeck in March 1942. Dresden was devastated by the Allied air raid of 13 and 14 February 1945...

In Casablanca the cult film of 1942 with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, airplane connections play an important role - even in war time.

During the Second War, the V1 and V2, ,the first rockets, were developed in Peenemunde  a technology that Werner Von Braun took with him to the United States. The Atlas rocket, which launched the first Mercury capsules in space, was designed in 1950 for the American Air Force by the Flemish emigrant Karel Jan Bossart.
In 1973, after long-term discussions between France, Germany and the UK, 11 European countries decided to jointly to establish the European Space Agency (ESA). Ariane's maiden flight took place December 24, 1979 from the Guiana Space Center at Kourou, French Guiana.