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The Expanding Nation

photo of two people standing next to a lake

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. 


Letters from the Territories

As they enter The 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. 


Moving Mail on Rivers and Lakes

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


Ocean Steamers

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. 


Post-Haste  Surface Table

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.