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The Transcontinental Railroad and Westward Expansion

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Thesis: The transcontinental railway greatly increased Westward enlargement in

the United States of America during the latter half of the 19th century.

The history of the United States has been influenced by England in many ways.

In the 2nd half of the 1800 & # 8217 ; s, the railway, which was invented in England,

had a major consequence on Western enlargement in the United States.

& # 8220 ; Railroads were born in England, a state with dense

populations, short distances between metropoliss, and big

fiscal resources. In America there were different

fortunes, a thin population in a immense state, big

stretches between metropoliss, and merely the smallest sums of

money. & # 8221 ; ( & # 8221 ; Railroad & # 8221 ; 85 )

The first American railwaies started in the 1830 & # 8217 ; s from the Atlantic ports of

Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah

( Douglas 23 ) . Within 20 old ages, four rail lines had crossed the Allegheny mountainss

to make their end on `Western Waters & # 8217 ; of the Great Lakes or the feeders of

the Mississippi. Meanwhile, other lines had started West of the Appalachian

mountains, and by the mid-1850 & # 8217 ; s Chicago, St. Louis, and Memphis were connected

to the East. Still other lines were stretching Westward, beyond the Mississippi.

An international path connected New England and Montreal and another 1

crossed Southern Ontario between Niagara, New York, and the Detroit River.

During the 1850 & # 8217 ; s, North and South paths were developed both East and West of

the Alleghenies. It was non until after the Civil War, nevertheless, that a lasting

railway span was constructed across the Ohio River. After the Civil War, the

gait of railway edifice increased. The Pacific railwaies, the Union Pacific

edifice from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific edifice from Sacramento,

California, had started to construct a transcontinental railway during the war to

aid advance national integrity. They were joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10,

1869, finishing the first rail connexion across the continent.

Before the transcontinental railway, the Eastern railwaies had lines running

merely as far West as Omaha, Nebraska. The Western railwaies had a few lines

running North and South in California, far West of the wall of the Sierra Nevada

Mountains. In between these two webs was a immense spread of about 17

100 stat mis of fields and mountain scopes. Closing this spread was a dream shared

by many Americans. Businessmen thought of all the money they could do by

holding an full continent full of clients and utilizing the railwaies to function

their demands. Romantics dreamed of the finds of wild Indians, lookouts and

huntsmans, and, of class, gold. Gold had been a desired discovery throughout the

geographic expedition of America. The California Gold Rush of 1849 once more created much

exhilaration about the hunt for gold.

The Pacific Railroads were founded when the Civil War was in advancement. Until

the war was over, the transcontinental railway was a elephantine endeavor stalled

by much spat between a loath Congress and the Army, who had clamored

for it ( Cooke 254 ) . If it had been left to the authorities, it would hold taken

another 20 old ages to finish the transcontinental railway. However, it was

a commercial venture, and it was fortuitously fed by the epinephrine of

competition. There were two railway companies constructing the transcontinental

railway, the Union Pacific from the East, and the Central Pacific from the West.

The two companies struggled to crush each other in banging down a record milage

of path. At first, Congress avidly pursued the undertaking and they had stipulated

that the Central Pacific should halt when it reached the California Border

( Congress was full of Easterners ) . In 1865, after much statement about the assistance

the authorities was supplying to the two companies, the existent building of

the transcontinental railway was started. Then in 1866, Congress decided that

two companies should construct as fast as possible and run into wherever they came

together ( 255 ) .

First, the Union Pacific sent out location parties, following the line and

uncluttering the way by killing the Sioux and the American bison in the manner of the

railway. Then came the building packs who, working in displacements, graded

( flattened ) the land by every bit much as a 100 stat mis a stretch. Behind them came

the track-laying crews, each dwelling of 10 thousand work forces and as many animate beings.

For each stat mi of path, the authorities was lending the railway from $ 16,000,

for level land, to $ 48,000, for cragged land ( & # 8221 ; Railroad & # 8221 ; 86 ) . The supplies

needed to put a individual stat mi of path included 40 train autos to transport four

100 dozenss of rail and lumber, ties, bridgings, fuel, and nutrient, which all had

to be assembled in a terminal on the Missouri River. But the Union Pacific had the

twin advantages of relatively level land and a uninterrupted supply line back to

the mills of the East seashore. It was rather different for the Central Pacific,

which had to bring most of its stuffs, except lumber, by sea, twelve 1000

stat mis around the tip of South America. Another difference between the two

companies was their work-forces. The Eastern work packs were recruited from

immigrant Irish, hapless Southern Whites, and hapless Southern inkinesss, while the

Western crews came largely from China. The Union Pacific was said to be sustained

by whiskey while the Central Pacific was said to be sustained by tea ( Douglas

110 ) .

While the Easterners were rushing through the prairie, the Westerners were

depriving foothill woods, distressingly bridging, burrowing, and edging up the

mountains. Working summer and winter, it took the Central Pacific two old ages to

hurdle the barrier of the Sierras. A 1000 stat mis back East, the Irish workers

often fainted in the summer solstice heat, but their employers were kept traveling by

the money they would have from the authorities upon completion of the

transcontinental railway.

With the Westerners over the Sierras, and the Easterners over the Rocky

Mountains, the two ground forcess slogged along the sage toward each other. When the two

crews came within sight of each other, the Irish turned to their fists to decelerate

down the Chinese. The Chinese resorted to pick axes, which in bend brought the

Irish to utilize their guns. The Chinese eventually gave in and the combat was

stopped ( Merk 456 ) .

On May 10, 1869 the two tracks met at a topographic point in Utah that was named Promontory

Point. The crews had laid 1,775 stat mis of path in merely over three old ages. Five

yearss subsequently, a particular Central Pacific train arrived transporting company executives,

applied scientists, and province very important persons. Three yearss subsequently, the Union Pacific train came

with it & # 8217 ; s ain burden of very important persons, three companies of foot, and a regimental


& # 8220 ; It promised to be a gallant and cosmetic ceremonial.

But in the class of their labour the crew had collected a

more colourful mixture of interested parties: barroom

keepers, gamblers, prostitutes, money loaners, odd-job wanderers.

And these, with the cooks and dish washers from the residence hall

trains, made up the welcoming party. & # 8221 ; ( Douglas 121 )

Five provinces had sent along gold and Ag spikes for the official ceremonial.

The chosen symbol for the ceremonial was a aureate spike which was to be driven in

by the Governor of California, Leland Stanford. The set stopped playing and a

supplication was said. The telegraph operator was connected with San Francisco and New

York and was ready to direct the first coast-to-coast commentary. It was a individual

sentence, & # 8220 ; Stand by, we have done praying, & # 8221 ; ( Merk 461 ) . Then the Governor of

California lifted the sleigh cock above his caput and brought it down to run into

the rail. He had missed the spike, but the telegraph operator had already sent

the message and New York fired a 100 gun salutation, Philadelphia rang the

Liberty Bell, and a San Francisco paper announced the & # 8220 ; appropriation of the United

States, & # 8221 ; ( Cooke 218 ) .

& # 8220 ; The state might take to the railway as a freshness and a tourer manner,

but the companies saw it as a concatenation of losing links between the Great Plains

and the people who woul

vitamin D want, or could be urged, to settle it, ” ( Cooke 229 ) .

The old ages 1870-1900 were a period of tremendous growing in the United States.

During these old ages, 430 million estates of land were settled, which was more than

had been occupied in all preceding American history. A considerable portion of this

enlargement was in the Great Plains ( & # 8221 ; United States of America & # 8221 ; 472 ) .

This tremendous enlargement was the merchandise of a combination of forces. One was

the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act of 1862 was passed by the

authorities to promote agriculture in the Mid-West. The authorities offered any

caput of household or individual over 21, either citizen or foreigner who wished to

go a citizen, a 160 acre subdivision of land. The receiver paid a little fee and

agreed to populate on the homestead or cultivate it for five old ages ( Merk 236 ) .

In add-on to the Homestead Act, there was the realisation on the portion of

informed people that the epoch of well-watered, free land was pulling to a stopping point.

A warning had been given in 1880 by the Director of the Census that the epoch of

free land was shuting ( Horn 130 ) . The fleet enlargement across the Great Plains

was, in portion, a haste of American husbandmans who wanted to take portion in free and

inexpensive land in countries that were good watered. A 3rd factor was the sale of land

by provinces at attractive monetary values. School lands, university lands, and other province

lands were put on the market in competition with homesteads.

The main factor, nevertheless, in this fleet Westward colonisation was the

railway companies. All of them were eager to transport colonists to the huge

prairie, to acquire it colonized as a affair of developing traffic. The land-grant

railwaies had their ain countries to sell. But, they besides sharply advertised

the free homestead lands of the federal authorities. The chief aim was to

construct up colony as a agency of making cargo to transport. The monetary values at which

railway lands were sold varied harmonizing to location and dirt from five to

twenty dollars or more an acre with easy recognition footings. Many colonists preferred

railway lands that were favourably located over free homesteads. Railway

companies, particularly those possessing land grants, were colonisers of the Great

Plains on a big graduated table. They carried forward on a huge graduated table the work that had

been done on a lesser graduated table by colonising companies on the seaside during the

colonial period.

The Great Plains were advertised with extraordinary enthusiasm. The Northern

Pacific Railroad kept eight hundred agents in assorted European states

administering literature and helping immigrants. Literature was spread in every

of import European linguistic communication, particularly to countries in which there were drouths or

bad dirt. Western railwaies had agents in New York City to have immigrants ;

they offered particular immigrant rates to the West, and they gave new reachings

advice on where to settle and about the best methods of farming. The railway

endeavor was one of the most of import facets of the history of the West

since the Civil War, and the ground the narrative is non emphasized more in drumhead

histories is that the narrative has so far been told merely for single railwaies.

& # 8220 ; In and full-scale run to enticement colonists, railway land offices churned out

reams of propaganda that painted the prairies and fields as a regular

paradise. & # 8221 ; ( Horn 194 ) Railroads were non ever scrupulous in their colonisation

methods. They permitted their New York agents to utilize doubtful agencies of luring

immigrants coming away steamboats to settle on their lands. Some were said to

hold stolen trainloads of immigrants from each other.

Hard-hitting salesmanship was used in disposing of lands to prospective

colonists. Ecstatic narratives were told about what the land would turn. The clime

of the fields was misrepresented. Jay Cooke, the moneyman of the Northern

Pacific had weather maps printed in the 1870 & # 8217 ; s which were altered to demo the

part a topographic point of warm winters in order to antagonize the feeling that the

part of the Northern Pacific was a harshly cold state. The Northern Pacific

was thenceforth wittily referred to by newspapers as Jay Cooke & # 8217 ; s Banana Belt.

Lack of rainfall was known to be a important job on the Western Plains. The

whole part is an country of semi-aridity and of climatic rhythms. A series of moisture

old ages occurs when the one-year rainfall is slightly more that 20 inches ; so

a dry series will follow, conveying old ages of drouths. It so happened that the

five old ages prior to 1887 were a wet series on the Great Plains, when Kansas,

Nebraska, and South Dakota had reasonably frequent rainfall. The propagandists of

the railwaies, as a consequence, either denied the averment that the Plains were a

part of semi-aridity, or contended that the clime was altering for the

better. They advanced assorted theories to explicate the alteration. Plowing the turf

was said to bring forth rain. The stringing of telegraph lines was said to besides

green goods rain. A theory was developed that the noise of civilisation, the

clanging of the engines, etc. , lead to the rain. These theories were even

repeated by province functionaries.

& # 8220 ; The scientists of the federal authorities were non

allowed to antagonize such propaganda. In the studies of

the Geological Survey, Major John Wesley Powell was obliged,

at the insisting of Western congresswomans who were moving on

the behest of railway anterooms, to strike out, in his

history of the Great Plains, every mention of `semi-

fruitlessness & # 8217 ; and replace the words `semi-humidity. & # 8217 ; & # 8221 ; ( Merk

473 )

All this propaganda led to even more colony. A premier illustration of the consequence

of the unbelievable haste of colony in the Prairie is the growing of the province

of Nebraska, specifically Omaha, before and after the coming of the

transcontinental railway. Nebraska was admitted to the Union in 1867, and

despite an economic depression and a grasshopper pestilence, the State & # 8217 ; s population

increased from approximately 120,000 to more than 1,000,000 by 1890. Much of this growing

was due to the State & # 8217 ; s location along the transcontinental railway. During the

1880 & # 8217 ; s, Omaha became an of import industrial and meat-packing centre. The

railway connexions made this growing possible.

The beef industry was one of the many that were dependent on the railway.

When the transcontinental railway went into service a 29 twelvemonth old

farm animal bargainer from Chicago named Joseph McCoy had an thought that would be the

start of cowpuncher. He planned to crowd cowss from Southern Texas to the railway

at Omaha, meanwhile holding the cattles graze on the grassland in between the two

points ( Cooke 229 ) . With the refrigerated train auto in 1870, beef became portion of

the diets of the 1000000s in the East ( 232 ) . Therefore, the railway created a

sustainable industry for the cattle ranchers in the Mid-West and the metropolis of


Many other little towns along the railway besides boomed during the last one-fourth

of the 1800 & # 8217 ; s. Without the railway, the homesteads could hold merely been reached

by waggon, which would hold discouraged many if non most of the colonists traveling to

become husbandmans. Unlike the gold mineworkers of the earlier old ages, the husbandmans did non

dream of acquiring rich rapidly. They wanted to be self-sufficing, and they felt

that the land on the Prairie could assist them make it. The railway was an

unbelievable accelerator in the population of the Mid-West and without it the country

might still be sparsely populated. The transcontinental railway proved it & # 8217 ; s

worth and had a enormous impact on westbound enlargement. & # 8220 ; In less than 30

old ages after the Civil War, all across the `enormous spread & # 8217 ; spanned by the railway,

the inside was being conquered and domesticated. & # 8221 ; ( Cooke 240 )


Cooke, Alistair. Alistair Cooke & # 8217 ; s America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.

Douglas, George H. All Aboard! The Railway In American Life. New York: Paragon

House, 1992.

Horn, Huston. The Old West The Pioneers. New York: Time-Life Books, 1974.

Merk, Frederick. History of the Westward Movement. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,


& # 8220 ; Railroad. & # 8221 ; Compton & # 8217 ; s Encyclopedia. 1990 edition.

& # 8220 ; United States of America. & # 8221 ; The New Encyclop? Defense Intelligence Agency Britannica. 1990 edition.

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