How Did The Transcontinental Railroad Affect Western Expansion In The United States?

Topics: United States, Nebraska, Great Plains Pages: 16 (2386 words) Published: January 1, 1995
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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