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

2392 words - 10 pages

Thesis: The transcontinental railroad greatly increased Westwardexpansion in the United States of America during the latter halfof the nineteenth century.The history of the United States has been influenced byEngland in many ways. In the second half of the 1800's, therailroad, which was invented in England, had a major effect onWestern 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 theAtlantic ports of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia,Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah (Douglas 23). Within twentyyears, four rail lines had crossed the Alleghenies to reach theirgoal on `Western Waters' of the Great Lakes or the tributaries ofthe Mississippi. Meanwhile, other lines had started West of theAppalachian mountains, and by the mid-1850's Chicago, St. Louis,and Memphis were connected to the East. Still other lines werestretching Westward, beyond the Mississippi. An internationalroute connected New England and Montreal and another one crossedSouthern Ontario between Niagara, New York, and the DetroitRiver.During the 1850's, North and South routes were developedboth East and West of the Alleghenies. It was not until afterthe Civil War, however, that a permanent railroad bridge wasconstructed across the Ohio River. After the Civil War, the paceof railroad building increased. The Pacific railroads, the UnionPacific building from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacificbuilding from Sacramento, California, had started to build atranscontinental railroad during the war to help promote nationalunity. They were joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869,completing the first rail connection across the continent.Before the transcontinental railroad, the Eastern railroadshad lines running only as far West as Omaha, Nebraska. TheWestern railroads had a few lines running North and South inCalifornia, far West of the wall of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.In between these two networks was a huge gap of about seventeenhundred miles of plains and mountain ranges. Closing this gapwas a dream shared by many Americans. Businessmen thought of allthe money they could make by having an entire continent full ofcustomers and using the railroads to serve their needs.Romantics dreamed of the discoveries of wild Indians, scouts andhunters, and, of course, gold. Gold had been a desired findthroughout the exploration of America. The California Gold Rushof 1849 again created much excitement about the search for gold.The Pacific Railroads were founded when the Civil War was inprogress. Until the war was over, the transcontinental railroadwas a giant enterprise stalled by much bickering between areluctant Congress and the Army, who had clamored for it...

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