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To What Extent Did The Railroad Affect Westward Expansion In 19th Century America?

2053 words - 9 pages

A: Plan of the Investigation
This investigation evaluated: To what extent does the railroad affect westward expansion in 19th century America? In order to assess its contribution, the investigation focused on the construction and expansion of the railroads westward; evaluating how and to what extent the western frontier used the railroads. This is done by assessing who the first settlers were, what the trains were transporting between the East and West, and how it affected the people of the 19th century.
B. Summary of Evidence.
The steam railroad, making its first appearance around 1930, soon became a form of transportation that could rival sea vessels. This land vessel could cross ridges, mountains, and could even run in the winter (Fehrenbacher 62). In 1831, the first railroad tunnel was built, allowing people to go through the land instead of around it, saving a lot of time for transporters (Bruno 507). In 1856, a railroad bridge was built that spanned the Mississippi river, the first of its kind (Stover 38). In 1856, the railroad extended to Illinois. Illinois in turn, started to sell thousands of acres of land, drawing in hundreds of settlers westward (Stover 45). Thanks to the railroad, wheat imports increased 900% and corn quadrupled between 1852 and 1856 in Chicago (Stover 51). In the 1870’s, the railroad system expanded past the frontier, bringing millions of Americans west (Stover 64). The expansion of the railroads west brought settlers to present day Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona (Stover 65). The west had very few rivers for ships to navigate on, however, the railroad was able to span across the land, bringing many settlers west and allowing for eastern markets to have access to western agricultural goods (Stover 67). Discovery of Gold in Pike’s Peak caused a hundred thousand miners to cross the Plains in 1849 (Billington 656). It is estimated that 80% of railroad production was directly caused by the gold rush in 1849 (Ripley 4). Between 1860 and 1900, crop production shifted westward, and the only way to transport those crops is by train (Stover 98). In 1862, Lincoln called for the trans-continental railroad, a railroad that would span the entire width of the United States of America (Stover 67). In 1867, the need for railroad workers greatly increased bringing Irish and Chinese immigrants westward for work (Billington 646). Even though the supplies were there, the railroad companies still needed workers to lay down the tracks, which they then fixed the problem by importing boat after boat of Chinese workers (Miller 104). Around 1868, the first rudimentary settlements in the west were created by the workers. These ramshackle towns held saloons, bars, workers quarters, and prostitution houses (Billington 647). Towns started sprouting up around the railroads, soon becoming large centers of trade and prosperity. Branching off of the main rails were Caravan Trains, trains that would stretch north and south, bringing...

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