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Think Piece: Transcontinental Railroad

The transcontinental railroad increased greatly in the Westward expansion in the United States during the 19th century. History of the United States has been obstructed by England in so many ways. In the 1800’s the railroad which was developed in England had a huge impact and effect on Western expansion in the U.S. “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 railroad’s progress started in the 1830’s from the Atlantic ports of Boston, which then lead to New York City, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah. In the twenty years of the railroad expansion, four rail lines had crossed the Alleghenies to reach their goal. The goal was to reach `Western Waters’ of the Great Lakes or the branches of the Mississippi. In the meantime, more of the railroad lines had started West of the Appalachian Mountains. By the mid-1850’s Chicago, St. Louis, and Memphis were then connected to the East. Still, other railroad lines were stretching Westward, beyond the Mississippi River. An intercontinental way connected New England and Montreal. Then an additional intercontinental way crossed Southern Ontario between Niagara, New York, and the Detroit River. Throughout the 1850’s, North and South ways were developed both East and West of the Alleghenies. It was not till after the Civil War, that an enduring 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 coast-to-coast railroad during the war to help promote national unity. They were joined at Promontory, Utah May 10, 1869, finishing the first rail connection across the continent. Before the transcontinental railroad, the Eastern railroads had lines going as far as West as Nebraska. The Western railroads had a few lines running North and South in California, far West of the wall of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Amongst 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. Entrepreneurs thought of all the money they could make by having an entire continent full of customers and using the railroads to serve their needs. Idealists dreamed of the discoveries of wild Indians, scouts and hunters, and, of course, gold. Gold had been the 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 created 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.

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