onThe Transcontinental Railroad and Westward ExpansionThesis: The transcontinental railroad greatly increased Westward expansion inthe 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 densepopulations, short distances between cities, and largefinancial resources. In America there were differentcircumstances, a sparse population in a huge country, largestretches between cities, and only the smallest amounts ofmoney.” (“Railroad” 85)The first American railroads started in the 1830’s from the Atlantic ports ofBoston, New York City, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah(Douglas 23). Within twenty years, four rail lines had crossed the Allegheniesto reach their goal on ‘Western Waters’ of the Great Lakes or the tributaries ofthe Mississippi. Meanwhile, other lines had started West of the Appalachianmountains, and by the mid-1850’s Chicago, St. Louis, and Memphis were connectedto the East. Still other lines were stretching Westward, beyond the Mississippi.An international route connected New England and Montreal and another onecrossed Southern Ontario between Niagara, New York, and the Detroit River.
During the 1850’s, North and South routes were developed both East and West ofthe Alleghenies. It was not until after the Civil War, however, that a permanentrailroad bridge was constructed across the Ohio River. After the Civil War, thepace of railroad building increased. The Pacific railroads, the Union Pacificbuilding from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific building from Sacramento,California, had started to build a transcontinental railroad during the war tohelp 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 runningonly as far West as Omaha, Nebraska. The Western railroads had a few linesrunning North and South in California, far West of the wall of the Sierra NevadaMountains.
In between these two networks was a huge gap of about seventeenhundred miles of plains and mountain ranges. Closing this gap was a dream sharedby many Americans. Businessmen thought of all the money they could make byhaving an entire continent full of customers and using the railroads to servetheir needs. Romantics dreamed of the discoveries of wild Indians, scouts andhunters, and, of course, gold.
Gold had been a desired find throughout theexploration of America. The California Gold Rush of 1849 again created muchexcitement about the search for gold.The Pacific Railroads were founded when the Civil War was in progress. Untilthe war was over, the transcontinental railroad was a giant enterprise stalledby much bickering between a reluctant Congress and the Army, who had clamoredfor it (Cooke 254). If it had been left to the government, it would have takenanother twenty years to complete the transcontinental railroad. However, it wasa commercial venture, and it was fortunately fed by the adrenaline ofcompetition.
There were two railroad companies building the transcontinentalrailroad, 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 mileageof track. At first, Congress avidly pursued the project and they had stipulatedthat the Central Pacific should stop when it reached the California Border(Congress was full of Easterners). In 1865, after much argument about the aidthe government was providing to the two companies, the actual construction ofthe transcontinental railroad was started. Then in 1866, Congress decided thattwo companies should build as fast as possible and meet wherever they cametogether (255).First, the Union Pacific sent out location parties, tracing the line andclearing the path by killing the Sioux and the buffalo in the way of therailroad. Then came the construction gangs who, working in shifts, graded(flattened) the land by as much as a hundred miles a stretch. Behind them camethe track-laying crews, each consisting of ten thousand men and as many animals.
For each mile of track, the government was loaning the railroad from $16,000,for flat land, to $48,000, for mountainous land (“Railroad” 86). The suppliesneeded to lay a single mile of track included forty train cars to carry fourhundred tons of