The Conestoga wagon is a heavy, broad-wheeled covered wagon that was used extensively during the late 17 and 1800s in the United States and sometimes in Canada as well. It was large enough to transport loads up to 8 tons (7 metric tons), and was drawn by horses, mules or oxen. It was designed to resemble a boat, to help it cross rivers and streams, though it sometimes leaked unless one caulked the wagon.
The first Conestoga wagons originated in Pennsylvania around 1750 and are thought to have been introduced by Mennonite German settlers. The name came from the Conestoga Valley near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In colonial times the Conestoga wagon was popular for migration southward through the Great Appalachian Valley along the Great Wagon Road. After the American Revolution it was used to open up commerce to Pittsburgh and Ohio. In 1820 rates charged were roughly one dollar per 100 pounds per 100 miles, with speeds about 15 miles (25 km) per day. The Conestoga, often in long wagon trains, was the primary overland cargo vehicle over the Appalachians until the development of the railroad. The wagon was pulled by a team of up to eight horses or up to a dozen oxen. For this purpose, the Conestoga horse, a special breed of medium to heavy draft horses, was developed.
The Conestoga wagon was cleverly built. Its floor curved upward to prevent the contents from tipping and shifting. The average Conestoga wagon was 18 feet long, 11 feet high, and 4 feet in width. It could carry up to 12,000 pounds of cargo. The cracks in the body of the wagon were stuffed with tar to protect them from leaks while crossing rivers. Also for protection against bad weather, stretched across the wagon was a tough, white canvas cover. The frame and suspension were made of wood, while the wheels were often iron rimmed for greater durability. Water barrels built on the side of the wagon were used to hold water and toolboxes held tools needed for repair on the wagon. The Conestoga wagon was used for many types of travel including passage to California during the Gold Rush.
The term "Conestoga wagon" refers specifically to this type of vehicle; it is not a generic term for "covered wagon." The wagons used in the westward expansion of the United States were, for the most part, ordinary farm wagons fitted with canvas covers.