The Transcontinental Railroad was the largest project the United States had ever attempted. Due to lack of technology, the massive size of the project, and the environmental conditions, the railroad seemed to be an impossible task. “The price tag was immense –
$136 million, more than twice the federal budget. The challenge was enormous.People had never traveled this far west before, and there were no established cities. Workers lived in makeshift camps that were often disorganized and filled with crime. They needed to blast through the granite of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges, making only inches of progress every day. The railroad’s route would span nearly seven hundred miles into desert and unexplored country. At its peak, the workforce on this project exceeded thirty thousand people. Workers from as far away as Ireland and China flocked to the United States for employment. The country became the land of opportunity.
The railroad accelerated the arrival of white homesteaders in the West. Because railroad companies had no use for excess land, they sold it off cheaply to homesteaders and ranchers who came west. Many Irish and Chinese immigrants who had helped build the railroad used their earnings to buy farmland from the railroads and settle the Great Plains. German, Swede, and Norwegian immigrants bought homesteads. The trains carried their farming equipment, and, later carried their product to market. As these immigrants integrated into the population, their customs, languages, ethnic roots, and religions helped to enrich American culture. The population of the United States shifted from the east to the developing west. The population of the United States exploded.
Villages, towns, and cities emerged along the train lines. Twenty years after the railroad was completed, thousands of villages occupied the western United States. With this growth came communities, churches, schools, and universities. Industries began to develop. Manufacturers used the railroad to bring in raw materials from far away. The railroad brought valuable lumber and minerals from the West to factories in the East. They shipped their products by rail and, throughout the country, commerce increased.
“It was the joining of two worlds: East meets West…On that day, the fabric of American life changed forever”
The construction of the railroad led to an economic boom. “But the railroad had more than a purely economic use. The transcontinental opened up the country.” (Elish 56). The needs of the new railroad system generated hundreds of thousands of new jobs, new mines, and new mills. Railroad companies employed thousands of workmen to survey the lines and maintain the rails. Rails had to be manufactured out of steel, and engines and train cars were built in engineering workshops. Coal to heat the engine boilers had to be dug out of the mines and shipped. From east to west, the economy flourished.
Over thirty million people settled in the United States between 1860 and 1890. This was one of the largest voluntary emigrations in the history of the world. The railroad helped to establish the United States, not only as a land of freedom and opportunity, but as a melting pot of different cultures, races, and religions.
The completion of the railroad proved that ordinary men could do extraordinary things. Life in America was forever changed.
The joining of the Union Pacific Railroad with the Central Pacific Railroad to create a railroad system that ran from coast to coast, was one of the greatest technological achievements of the 19th century. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad helped to improve life in the United States. Never before had a single engineering project done so much for so many.
The American people, standing in the forefront of the civilized world, have reaped the most notable advantages from this new servant, the locomotive. The Transcontinental Railroad has lightened human toil, made men richer in blessings and in leisure, increased their activity, shielded them from tempest and famine,enlarged the area available for man’s residence and subsistence, enabled him to do more in the same period of time and spread knowledge and virtue all over this earth