The mid-to-late 1800s marked a time of great growth as settlers, looking for better opportunities, forged west. Forward thinking businessmen and politicians worked to develop a network of railways that would stretch across the United States. Towns sprung up along the railways. Farmers and ranchers could send wheat, potatoes, cattle, and other foodstuffs east to large cities. Manufacturers in the East sent their goods, such as fabric, shoes, tools, equipment, and sugar to be sold in general stores in the West.
- On May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah, Leland Stanford, president of Central Pacific Railroad, hammered a golden spike into place to join the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads and create a continuous railway across the entire United States.
- 20,000 workers labored to build the railroad. About half of these workers were Chinese immigrants who had come to California during the Gold Rush. European immigrants, Mormon men, and Civil War veterans also worked on the rail lines. The hours were long, and conditions were dangerous. The powerful railroad owners cared little for the workers complaints.
- Before the transcontinental railroad, travelers went by ship around South America or by stagecoach across the country. Both means of transportation were expensive and time consuming. Travelers could go across the entire country by train in a week for $150, still a hefty sum in those days, but much less than the previous routes.
- George Pullman recognized the impact rail travel would have on the country. He invented Pullman cars, comfortable train cars with electric lights, beds, leather seats, and steam heat.
- Railroad owners viewed the herds of wild buffalo roaming the prairie as a nuisance and threat to the railways. The owners started the cruel sport of shooting buffalo from the trains. Hunters would kill the buffalo, stripping their hides to be tanned for shoes, furniture, and clothing, and leaving the meat to rot. This process was devastating to the Plains Indians, who had always relied on buffalo for food.
- From 1860 to 1862, men on horseback rode as Pony Express riders, delivering mail back and forth between the East and West. Stations with fresh horses were set up every 10 miles and riders typically rode 200 miles in each shift.
- Nuisance: something that is annoying or troublesome
- Impact: to strongly affect
Frequently Asked Questions
How long did it take to cross the country by stagecoach or wagon?
Answer: A cross-country trip could take up to six months prior to the arrival of the transcontinental railroad.
Visit the Transcontinental Railroad to learn more.