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Parent Category: 18th Century History Articles
Category: Science and Technology
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A lot has changed since the 1700s, especially where technology is concerned. Digitalization has impacted a variety of industries, from transportation and infrastructure to healthcare and communication.

This article will touch on a number of essentials of U.S. society that have changed dramatically since the advent of digital technology, and discuss how those everyday situations were handled in the 18th century.

18th Century Transportation and Infrastructure

Distracted driving is a real threat in the 21st century, but there were plenty of reasons that drivers could get distracted in the 1700s.

 

Modern drivers can be distracted by smartphones, fast food, and GPS devices, leading to an estimated 3,450 deaths in 2016 alone. Meanwhile, 18th-century drivers had even more potential distractors, even if their vehicles were more primitive. They may have had to take their eyes off the road due to the behavior of their horses or passengers.

 

The “cars” of the 1700s were wooden carriages pulled by horses, and they made for inefficient travel. For that reason, people didn’t typically stray far from their homes. As for the roads themselves, they tended to be muddy and full of potholes. Harsh road conditions sometimes meant that travelers would get stuck, and they sometimes had to manually push the carriage out of a muddy hole.

 

Weather significantly impacted travel as well. Winter storms could make many roads impassable, and spring or summer rain showers often contributed to the mud and potholes on many roadways. A fallen tree in the road could block passage for an undetermined amount of time until enough manpower was gathered to remove it.

Advances in International Relations

When those in the 18th century did leave their homes, they may have done so to perform the duties of a job. America’s Founding Fathers often had meetings with other world leaders, especially during the Revolutionary War, and they didn’t have access to Skype or Facetime. This meant that international relations took place via face-to-face meetings or by telegram.

 

Today’s diplomats have advanced information communications technology (ICT) to thank for their ability to influence decision-making on a global scale. This means that diplomats no longer have to travel abroad to discuss issues in person. American leaders in the 1700s didn’t have that luxury. Instead, they had to travel across the Atlantic on ships.

 

Steamboats weren’t invented until 1807, so when Benjamin Franklin set sail for France in 1776, representing the Continental Congress, he did so on a three-masted merchant vessel called the USS Reprisal. The trip across the Atlantic could take anywhere from six weeks to three months, and Franklin made the trip eight times in his lifetime.

Childbirth and Family Planning

The transatlantic trip was a dangerous one in the 18th century, and so was childbirth. Today, widespread digitization has greatly impacted the field of obstetrics, allowing for high-quality care in a shorter timespan than ever before. Expectant mothers of the 1700s didn’t have that luxury.

 

In fact, the maternal death rate in the 18th century is estimated at about 25 per 1000 births among unassisted women, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Today, the rate is about 15 per 100,000 live births, thanks to medical advances including digital impression gathering and pregnancy calculators.

 

Meanwhile, modern digital impressions gathered via ultrasound or X-ray have revolutionized the field of obstetrics. Today, obstetricians can identify problems in utero, such as a breech baby, and take action, significantly reducing birthing complications. Ultrasounds are also helpful in other healthcare settings, such as dentistry.

 

Family planning in the 1700s was virtually nonexistent, and large families were the result. The average 18th-century household included two parents and five or more children, as well as grandparents in some cases. Today’s American family has an average of 2.5 children, and they can track those children from conception and beyond. Modern women can use pregnancy calculators to track the progress of their fetus and use digital fertility calculators to determine when they can become pregnant.

 

From Telegram to Smartphone: Advances in Communication

 

When a child was born in the 1700s, it was often a family affair, as hospitals were few and far between. There was no birth announcement on Facebook or Twitter, and new parents couldn’t just pick up a phone to spread the news.

 

If one wanted to communicate with someone far away, there were few options in the 18th century. The most common form of long-distance communication was the telegram, which was essentially just a handwritten note sent via a messenger riding a horse. The first postmaster general in the U.S. was the aforementioned Ben Franklin, who left his post in 1776, one year after it was established.

 

We’ve come a long way from the telegram and wooden wagon days. Yet the simple technology of the times didn’t stop people in the 18th century from getting around or sending messages. Today, we take digital technology such as imaging and ICT for granted. It’s hard to believe that people thrived and survived without digitization.

About the Author:

Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. 
Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.