Covered Wagon Facts & History: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Andrea Miller

Andrea is currently a social studies middle school teacher in Ohio. She has a BA in history as well as a MEd in education. She has taught workshops including OGT Success and Writing for Life. Andrea has also been a middle school debate team coach for several years.

Before cars, trains and airplanes, Americans had to travel in a different way. Covered wagons were like the trucks of their day. In this lesson, you will learn about the history and facts of traveling in covered wagons.

Covered Wagons

Imagine you are going on a trip. How would you get to your destination? Would you drive, take a train, or maybe fly there in an airplane?

Now imagine that these modes of transportation don't exist. How would you be able to make your trip?

In the early years of America, before the time of easier transportation, people took long trips on covered wagons. A covered wagon is a large wooden vehicle covered with a canvas tent stretched over the top. In early America, people would pack these wagons full of their belongings and head out onto the open road.

History of the Covered Wagon

It is believed that the first covered wagons were built around 1717 in the area surrounding the Conestoga River in Pennsylvania. German immigrants in that area began building these wagons to haul heavy loads over the rough terrain of the area.

The first covered wagons were built in a 'boat' shape, with each end curving up so that the contents of the wagon would not spill out. The tent for the top was also soaked in oil to make it waterproof. The wagon would have been pulled by a team of six horses or oxen, with the driver often walking alongside the wagon or riding some of the horses.

Americans would use wagons as a major mode of transportation for nearly two centuries. The peak years of usage were 1820 to 1860, when Americans used wagons to move out west before railroads became more common.

Model of a Conestoga Wagon
Conestoga wagon

Types of Covered Wagons

One of the first and most popular covered wagons was named for the area where it was created. The Conestoga Wagon was large and heavy and originally built to haul materials, not to travel long distances.

As a result, the Prairie Schooner was created for long-distance travel. Created during the 1800s, the Prairie Schooner was a smaller wagon, with a flat body and lower sides. Because Prairie Schooners were used for long-distance travel, they could have storage boxes on the sides, as well as a barrel to catch rain water for drinking.

Another type of wagon was the Chuck wagon. A Chuck wagon was used to transport food and was typically set up like a 'traveling kitchen'. Because it was just for food, a Chuck wagon was much smaller and typically only used for travel with large groups of people.

A Prairie Schooner
Prairie Schooner

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