Transcontinental Railroad

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by MLMSHaley
Last updated 7 years ago

Social Studies
American History

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Transcontinental Railroad

Building of the Railroad

The Route Chosen

The Effect of the Railroad on the West

The Uniting of the Railroad at Promontory Summit

Owners of the Railroad

Why Build a Railroad?

In the United States, there was a growing need for expansion, which is why the Transcontinental Railroad was established. The Railroad United the east and the west and allowed for easier transportation of goods and people across the nation. It also successfully achieved Manifest's Destiny, which was the belief that we should expand the US throughout the American continent. A sense of unity for nation came along with the railroad too. The railroad served as a bond between the east and west coast, and brought people closer together. Now Americans could easily cross the nation and expand throughout the entire continent, without risking their lives. This railroad made the long, dangerous trek across the nation seem like almost nothing, and made stagecoaches an undesirable transportation option. The railroad really brought America unity, fulfilling the dream of Manifest's Destiny, while benefiting us in many other different ways.

In 1862, the Pacific Railroad Act enacted by Congress, hired the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies to build a railroad that would unite the east and west. Thus becoming the transcontinental railroad. Those two companies would race to each others sides to earn the most money from their hard work.

In 1862, when the act was first enacted, the race began between the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railway companies to lay down as much track as they could. The Union Pacific Railway company had a disadvantage. The terrain across the rough rocky terrain made track laying a problem, let alone the fact that workers had to blast through mountains to lay tracks. The Central Pacific company could lay down much more track a day than the Union Pacific company. Union Pacific started western in Sacramento, California, and Central Pacific started eastern in Omaha, Nebraska. Many immigrants from countries such as China and Ireland came to help build. The next seven years consisted of mountain blasting, angry Indian tribes pulling up rails, and trying to be fast and just as efficient. Pay cuts with longer work hours angered workers and slowed down the establishment greatly. Many crews rebelled after hearing of increased work yet lower pay. But finally after seven years, the Transcontinental Railroad was at once completed at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869. All of the hard work, time, and effort, finally materialized into a functioning railway that would forever unite the nation.

Transcontinental Railroad

A positive effect the transcontinental railroad had on the West was that the economy rose. With such short travel time, mass production and shipment became easier. Cattle ranches and farms provided money for the U.S. economy that wouldn’t have contributed to the economy without the Transcontinental Railroad to transport the goods. Lots of job opportunities became available in the West for the lower class and allowed for more immigrants to come and have a steady source of income, which further improved the economy. At 1868 there was already 12,000 Chinese immigrants working on the railroad and many Irish immigrants too. After only ten years after the railway's completion it had shipped over $50 million worth of goods coast to coast yearly. Shipment across the nation allowed for intercontinental trade to countries such as China. International trade further benefitted suppliers and local citizens. The railroad brought large-scale production, many jobs, and was vital for international trade. A benefit in the completion meant that it was much easier to travel across the nation, truly achieving Manifest’s Destiny. Finally people could easily migrate across the entire continent and settle in new areas, but with the travel time so short the nation felt much smaller. Travelers could make the trip between San Francisco and New York in a week without experiencing the harsh terrain or grueling hours. Traveling from coast to coast used to almost take an entire year, but now it was cut substantially. From the east to the west coast there was a bond of the railroad uniting the land. With being able to travel from coast to coast easily, America felt much smaller. Although the railroad seemed like the most utilitarian thing to do, it was very detrimental to Native Americans. The construction of the railroad disrupted Indian hunting reserves. The rich hunting ground of Powder River Valley was lost by 1890. Animals were killed or driven away from their natural environment. This and new treaties influenced the Indians so greatly that many moved to reservations where they wouldn’t be affected. The natural food source for Indians depleted during the completion of the railroad greatly. Buffalo herds became scarcer, which drove Indians away. As workers built tracks they mindlessly slaughtered herds to ship back for profit in the East. Buffaloes were easy prey and could be shipped easily. Millions of buffalo were killed during the construction of the railroad, which prevented Indians from having a reliable food source. A large cultural impact occurred when jobs were high in demand, because it quickly turned to racial problems in the state. The mistreatment of African Americans spread to Chinese immigrants. People were valuing the work of white men more than Chinese workers. The State Legislature and government passed anti-Chinese laws and raised taxes to prevent Chinese immigration and to take away civil rights of those who immigrated. These immigrants were constantly being mistreated and were not valued the same as everyone else. The Transcontinental Railroad really brought this out when jobs needed to be filled. The racism that African Americans faced was shifted over to the Chinese immigrants. As time went on, it became vivid that Chinese workers were productive and easier to manage than other crews. The government discovered that Chinese workers were more viable and desirable towards the completion of the railroad. This ended the discrimination and racism towards Chinese immigrants.

The Transcontinental Railroad started being built in July of 1865. It would’ve started sooner if they had a steady source of money to spend. Much of America’s focus was on the Civil War, which had just ended, so there was little money to spend. However, with the help of many workers and donations, they were able to finish the railroad in a respectable amount of time. There were four major contributors that helped with the completion of the railroad. They were Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins. They’re better known to be the Big Four. They were strong investors from the start in 1861 to 1900 when their investment was extremely successful. Their investments in the company made it so that the Central Pacific Railroad could be built. That railroad soon became the western side of the Transcontinental Railroad. Without their investment, the railroad wouldn’t have enough funds to be built. In the actual construction of the railroad, surveyors were sent out to choose just the right route that would be the least hard to build, and the cheapest. Bridges were built and mountains blown up all to be done as hastily as possible to get the highest profit. The government tasked the Union Pacific Railroad Company and the Central Pacific Railroad Company to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Both companies were racing to get as much track laid down to get the money before the other company had the chance to. Each company was paid $16,000 per mile of track. The Central Pacific Railroad had a harder time to work quickly due to rough terrain like mountains. Each company was required to build 50 miles of track a year, which meant a lot of jobs would be required in doing so. Thousands of workers built the Transcontinental Railroad. Sometimes the workers would demand higher wages and less work hours. When those demands were left unfulfilled, workers would go on strike and rebel. Thomas Clark Durant was known to not give workers promised wages. Chinese immigrants who weren’t as well valued as other workers built most of the bridges. The immigrants also mined through the mountains, sometimes only going a few feet a day. During the winter many immigrants died of illnesses, which meant that there was a constant need for new workers to continue the building of the railway. At last, on May, 10 1869 the railroad was finished. The two lines linked up coast to coast at Promontory Summit, Utah. At last the nation was united and all of the hard work of the railway was at last finished.

The route for the Transcontinental Railroad was desired to be the cheapest and easiest route to build. Numerous surveyors studied the land, and finally they decided on the perfect route starting in Omaha, Nebraska and ending in Sacramento, California. They had 3 main options to choose from. They could take the northern route, which followed the Lewis and Clark Expedition through present day Oregon, and Montana territory. That route however wasn’t chosen due to harsh weather complications and the rough terrain. The route also could’ve been the southern route through New Mexico Territory into Los Angeles, California, avoiding the Rocky Mountains completely. However, the route chosen was the path of the Oregon Trail. It avoided the worst of the Rocky Mountains and went through Utah. Brigham Young persuaded government officials to build the railroad through Utah in order to allow more job opportunities for Utahans, and he was successful. The route that was chosen is seen to be the most viable out of the three options, and has worked quite well.

Mormon workers digging out WeberCanyon for the railroad

Workers laying out railsfor the railroad

Railroad Route

The Big Four (including Thoedore Judah)

How much trackworkers couldlay in one day

Train travelling throughthe mountains


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