Thesis: The transcontinental railroad greatly increased Westward
expansion in the United States of America during the latter half
of the nineteenth century.
The history of the United States has been influenced by
England in many ways. In the second half of the 1800's, the
railroad, which was invented in England, had a major effect on
Western expansion in the United States.
'Railroads were born in England, a country with dense
populations, short distances between cities, and large
financial resources. In America there were different
circumstances, a sparse population in a huge country, large
stretches between cities, and only the smallest amounts of
money.' ('Railroad' 85)
The first American railroads started in the 1830's from the
Atlantic ports of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia,
Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah (Douglas 23). Within twenty
years, four rail lines had crossed the Alleghenies to reach their
goal on `Western Waters' of the Great Lakes or the tributaries of
the Mississippi. Meanwhile, other lines had started West of the
Appalachian mountains, and by the mid-1850's Chicago, St. Louis,
and Memphis were connected to the East. Still other lines were
stretching Westward, beyond the Mississippi. An international
route connected New England and Montreal and another one crossed
Southern Ontario between Niagara, New York, and the Detroit
During the 1850's, North and South routes were developed
both East and West of the Alleghenies. It was not until after
the Civil War, however, that a permanent railroad bridge was
constructed across the Ohio River. After the Civil War, the pace
of railroad building increased. The Pacific railroads, the Union
Pacific building from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific
building from Sacramento, California, had started to build a
transcontinental railroad during the war to help promote national
unity. They were joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869,
completing the first rail connection across the continent.
Before the transcontinental railroad, the Eastern railroads
had lines running only as far West as Omaha, Nebraska. The
Western railroads had a few lines running North and South in
California, far West of the wall of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
In between these two networks was a huge gap of about seventeen
hundred miles of plains and mountain ranges. Closing this gap
was a dream shared by many Americans. Businessmen thought of all
the money they could make by having an entire continent full of
customers and using the railroads to serve their needs.
Romantics dreamed of the discoveries of wild Indians, scouts and
hunters, and, of course, gold. Gold had been a desired find
throughout the exploration of America. The California Gold Rush
of 1849 again created much excitement about the search for gold.
The Pacific Railroads were founded when the Civil War was in
progress. Until the war was over, the transcontinental railroad
was a giant enterprise stalled by much bickering between a
reluctant Congress and the Army, who had clamored for it (Cooke
254). If it had been left to the government, it would have taken
another twenty years to complete the transcontinental railroad.
However, it was a commercial venture, and it was fortunately fed
by the adrenaline of competition. There were two railroad
companies building the transcontinental railroad, the Union
Pacific from the East, and the Central Pacific from the West.
The two companies struggled to beat each other in slamming down a
record mileage of track. At first, Congress avidly pursued the
project and they had stipulated that the Central Pacific should
stop when it reached the California Border (Congress was full of
Easterners). In 1865, after much argument about the aid the
government was providing to the two companies, the actual...
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