The son of a planter and surveyor, Thomas Jefferson knew something about the land, and he realized that America’s was vast. When he was elected as the third U.S. president in 1800, he expressed interest in finding a waterway that spanned from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in order to connect far-reaching settlements and allow for trade throughout the great expanse of land.
His proposal was to fund an expedition across North America in search of such a transportation route. This trek, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from 1803 to 1806, is now known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Their exploration discovered that the Rocky Mountains formed a huge divide in the Western region and no existing coast-to-coast waterway.
So did Jefferson just give up on the idea? No—he was determined to come up with a working transportation system to link American communities. His plan was to devise a system of roads, rivers and railroads, an enormous undertaking that involved building usable thoroughfares, laying the groundwork for a railway structure and digging waterways such as canals.