Data Downloads


These GIS SHP files cover the spread of different modes of transportation in the Lower 48 states from this nation’s founding through (approximately) 1911.  Each transportation mode–canals, steamboat-navigated (as opposed to navigable) rivers, and railroads–has its own archive ZIP file which contains the complete series of files (projection, database and polyline files, etc.) required by ESRI’s ArcGIS and ArcGIS Pro.  These are collectively referred to as “a SHP file” though there are actually multiple files for each mode of transportation.  Once unpacked, these files for each SHP must be kept together and should only be edited using a GIS program.  If corrupted, the entire SHP file will become unusable.

The metadata file (.XML) briefly describes the contents of each SHP, the manner in which it was created, and summarizes any edits since these files were originally posted.  Issues relating to the creation of these SHP files are discussed in much greater detail in the documentation below.  That documentation covers the three modes of transportation for which I have created SHP files.

Please contact me if you have any corrections to these SHP files.

I also draw attention to my June 2013 article in the Journal of Economic History that describes an earlier generation of SHP files which these files replace. A link to this article appears on my home page (see the navigation bar above).

For a recent use of my railroad data, see:

created by Paul Cauthorn.  Different current and historical layers can be switched on using the upper right tools on his “bygonemaps” web site and there is a red opacity slider along the bottom of the map that adjusts many of the layers.


Procedures and Issues Relating to the Creation of Historical Transportation Shapefiles of Navigable Rivers, Canals and Railroads in the United States

Zipped SHP files

Railroads, 1826-1911

(Created: August 4, 2015.  SHP file last edited: May 10, 2016)

Suggested citation for data: Jeremy Atack, “Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database of U.S. Railroads for [selected years based on value of .dbf field “InOpBy” or “Exact”]” (May 2016) replacing the contents in brackets with the appropriate years(s) based upon the database selection criteria.

Steamboat-navigated Rivers

(Created: September 1, 2015.  Last edited: February 16, 2015, correcting map projection)

Suggested citation for data: Jeremy Atack, “Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database of Steamboat-Navigated Rivers During the Nineteenth Century in the United States.” (September 2015)

19th Century Canals

(Created: August 23, 2015.  Last edited: March 15, 2017, correcting western terminus of Erie Canal)

Suggested citation for data: Jeremy Atack, “Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database of Nineteenth Century U.S. Canals.” (March 2017)


I discovered these Western River steamboat data among the manuscripts of the 1850 (Seventh) Census of Manufactures for Kentucky circa 1973.  At the time, I was working as a graduate research assistant at Indiana University for Fred Bateman, James D. Foust and Thomas J. Weiss on their NSF-funded project to collect machine-readable samples of manufacturing plants from the manuscript censuses of manufactures for 1850-70 (NSF 2450 and 1456: “Collaborative Research in United States Manufacturing.”  See also ICPSR 4048 and 4071 and Atack and Bateman in Historical Methods (1999)).  The Assistant Marshal for Louisville, Reuben Dawson, who was charged with collecting the required census data from manufacturing establishments in his district, failed to follow the Census Bureau’s instructions for Schedule 5 and mistakenly collected information for 46 steamboats tied up along the Ohio River bank (Dawson also recorded data for six ferry boats operating across the Ohio River but I have not transcribed these).

A brief file describing these data may be found here while an EXCEL spreadsheet of my transcription of the data (linked to some data from William Lytle’s, Merchant steam vessels of the United States 1807-1868, (Mystic CT, 1952)) is located here.

Suggested citation for data: Jeremy Atack “1850 Steamboat Data,” Excel spreadsheet,


These data were collected under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation through a variety of grants to Fred Bateman, Thomas Weiss, and Jeremy Atack. We gratefully acknowledge their generous support.

The data here are provided here in the form of Microsoft Excel 2010 files.  These same basic data are also available from ICPSR at the University of Michigan which is the “official” designated depository.

Be sure to also download the related documentation.

State level samples (representative of the individual states but NOT nationally representative)

National samples (representative of the country as a whole and individual regions)



I am currently working on a nominal record linkage program that will ultimately create an unbalanced panel of individual and family/household census records from the federal censuses of population in 140 townships from coast to coast in the northern part of the United States linked to the farm records from the federal agricultural censuses from 1850 through 1880.  Thus persons in the 1850 population census are linked to the 1850 cenus of agriculture if they operated a farm within the sample township.These linked records are, in turn, linked to the 1860 census of population for the same township with these data also linked to the 1860 census of agriculture, and so on.  No effort is made to trace out-migrants or in-migrants in the sample townships although this is certainly possible (for men, anyway) using the census indexes created by

Since persons are linked using their name (supplemented by other characteristics such as age, occupation, birthplace, the names of other family members, etc.), women who (re)marry are generally “lost.”

As panels become available, they will be linked here.

This project also led to the creation on a public domain nominal record linkage program, PCMatchmaker, which may be downloaded here,  The program is stored as an archive and contain 104 files.  These should be extracted and kept together in a single directory.  Potential users should consult the documentation below before running this program.

Although this program was written prior to Windows (especially the current 64-bit version) it still runs (as of November 2016) in a command line window (“PCM.BAT”–see the documentation below), found under “Accessories” in the Windows Start Menu.

The documentation for the PCMatchmaker program is here and an academic paper which describes this program may be downloaded here.

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