Choo-Choo-Changes: Examining the Effects of the Transcontinental Railroad

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U.S. History

Examining the Effects of the Transcontinental Railroad
The United States had fulfilled its goal of “manifest destiny” following its war with Mexico in the late 1840s. After signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. While there were many Americans living on the east and west coasts, these two regions remained largely unconnected. Much of the land that the U.S. had acquired in the central portion of the country was unsettled and undeveloped. In 1862, the United States government passed the Homestead Act to encourage Americans to move out west (The act offered 160 acres of free land to anyone who agreed to live on the land and improve it for 5 years). This act of congress resulted in some westward migration, but it was the development of transportation technology that really caused enormous change out west.
The U.S. government commissioned two companies to build the country’s first transcontinental railroad. The railroad would span the entire country connecting the east coast and the west coast. In 1863, the Central Pacific Company started laying railroad tracks in Sacramento, CA (in the west) and the Union Pacific Company began building their track in the east in 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War. The two companies planned connecting their lines in Promontory, Utah. The companies spent nearly $200,000 on bribes to convince the government to help support the construction of the railroad. The government in turn gave the companies 21 million acres of free land and paid the companies $173 million to construct the railroad (which actually only cost $80 million to make). The owners and shareholders (like J.P. Morgan) of the two railroad companies became quite wealthy as a result of the government subsidies. On May 10th, 1869, the work on the transcontinental railroad was completed and the country was changed forever. How, you may be asking, did the railroad change the nation?
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The Central Pacific Company in the west was facing a labor shortage when the construction of the railroad began, because must people were trying to strike it rich in the mining industry that was sweeping through the west. Despite enormous amounts of prejudice, the Central Pacific Company decided to hire a few dozen Chinese laborers. The Chinese men proved themselves to be very hard workers. The company decided to bring even more men over from China. During the peak of its construction, nearly

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