Technology and the west
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Technology and the West. Railroads. Why Build a Transcontinental Railroad?. Would tie the nation together Would reduce travel time between East Coast and West Coast from months to days Would lead to growth of towns and cities along the rail line

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Technology and the west

Technology and the West



Why build a transcontinental railroad

Why Build a Transcontinental Railroad?

  • Would tie the nation together

  • Would reduce travel time between East Coast and West Coast from months to days

  • Would lead to growth of towns and cities along the rail line

  • Would make moving goods and raw materials easier

Which route to build

Which Route to Build?

  • Southerners wanted a route out of New Orleans, but rough terrain in Arizona led to the purchase of flatter land from Mexico (the Gadsden Purchase)

  • Northerners wanted a route out of Chicago, but Southerners blocked their efforts in hopes that they could barter the route’s location in exchange for an expansion of slavery

The pacific railway act

The Pacific Railway Act

  • Passed in 1862 (during the Civil War, so the Northern route won)

  • Congress approved the construction of a transcontinental railroad, awarding contracts to both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads

  • Both companies were given land along the right-of-way as payment, rather than cash; this encouraged competition and speedier construction – whoever built the most railroad, got the most land

The union pacific railroad

The Union Pacific Railroad

  • Led by Grenville Dodge, a former general known for his organizational and managerial skills

  • Started construction on a rail line heading west out of Omaha, Nebraska in 1865

Union pacific s workforce

Union Pacific’s Workforce

  • The Union Pacific used a mixture of unemployed Civil War veterans and Irish immigrants for labor

  • They hired over 10,000 men and housed them in camps along the tracks and in rolling dormitory cars

  • Rough living conditions led high crime rates – lots of gambling, drinking, and fighting between workers

The central pacific railroad

The Central Pacific Railroad

  • Organized in California under 4 investors, including Leland Stanford, the future governor of California and the founder of Stanford University

  • Started construction of a railroad heading east out of Sacramento

  • Had the major disadvantage of having to have all their railroad and construction equipment delivered by ships from the east

  • Also had to begin building in the mountains almost immediately, slowing their progress and increasing their expenses

Central pacific s workforce

Central Pacific’s Workforce

  • The organizers of the Central Pacific chose to hire over 10,000 Chinese laborers

  • Chinese were willing to work very cheaply because unemployment in China was very high due to the Taiping Rebellion

  • Chinese immigrants, who faced tremendous racism and were rarely treated fairly, tended to band together, creating “Chinatown” neighborhoods in major cities like San Francisco

The workingman s party of california

The Workingman’s Party of California

  • The growing numbers of Chinese workers led to increased nativism and anti-immigrant political activism

  • The Workingman’s Party of California was a political party founded by Irish immigrant Denis Kearney in the 1870s to oppose Chinese immigration and the use of Chinese labor to build the railroads

  • Simple motto: “The Chinese Must Go!”

The chinese exclusion act

The Chinese Exclusion Act

  • Growing anti-Chinese sentiments led Congress to pass a bill in 1882 banning all Chinese immigration for 10 years

  • Additionally, Chinese immigrants already in the U.S. were blocked from becoming citizens

  • Congress renewed the Act for ten more years in 1892 before banning Chinese immigration permanently in 1902 (the Act was repealed in 1942)

  • The ban led to a decline in the Chinese population in the U.S., since most early Chinese immigrants were men

Completion of the railroad

Completion of the Railroad

  • The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads finally met at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869

  • The completion of the railroad was celebrated with the driving of a golden spike to mark the spot where the two lines met

  • Amazingly, the entire railway had been built in only about 4 years

Time zones introduced

Time Zones Introduced

  • Prior to the railroads, time had been measured purely by the sun’s position, so the time of day was determined locally

  • In 1883, the American Railway Association divided the nation into 4 time zones to ease railroad scheduling and to improve safety; train wrecks were common due to discrepancies in local time, so a standardization of time measurement was necessary

Standardization of trains

Standardization of Trains

  • Hundreds of small, independent railroads quickly consolidated into just 7 major companies, increasing efficiency, lowering shipping and travel costs, and allowing for the development of standardized technology which further increased efficiency

  • The growing railroad networks also tied America’s regions together after the Civil War, helping minimize sectionalism

The land grant system

The Land Grant System

  • The federal government continued to give land to the railroad companies alongside their rail lines as payment and to encourage development

  • The railroads sold this land to settlers to raise the capital needed to build more railroads

  • Over 120 million acres of public lands had been given to the railroad companies by the late 1800s

Farming technologies

Farming Technologies

The steel plow

The Steel Plow

  • John Deere patented a steel-bladed plow in 1837 that could cut through the tough sod of the Great Plains

  • Deere’s steel plow opened the way for “sodbusters” to farm the prairie, but they also led to the breakdown of prairie soils and the loss of topsoil to wind & water erosion, factors that would later cause serious problems for Plains farmers

The mechanical reaper

The Mechanical Reaper

  • Developed by Cyrus McCormick in 1834, the mechanical reaper was a horse-drawn machine which could harvest far more grain than a man swinging a scythe

  • The reaper led to farmers planting more acreage, leading to an increase in grain production

Dry farming


  • Farming method where seeds are planted deep in the ground where there is enough moisture to allow them to germinate without irrigation or surface watering

  • This was the perfect method for use on the Plains where surface water was scarce and rainfall irregular

  • The best crops for dry-farming were grains, so Plains farmers grew wheat and corn out of necessity

The wheat belt

The Wheat Belt

The range wars

The Range Wars

  • As more farmers moved onto the Plains, they wanted to define and protect their fields

  • As sheep ranchers moved in, they needed access to water and pastures

  • Both groups were in conflict with the cattle ranchers who depended on the open range to graze and move their herds to the railheads

  • As a result, brief but violent range wars became common

Barbed wire ends the open range era

Barbed Wire Ends the Open Range Era

  • Invented by Joseph Glidden in 1874, barbed wire allowed large areas of land to be fenced off cheaply and easily, without the use of very much wood

  • It allowed farmers and sheep ranchers to fence in the prairie and shut down routes (like the Chisholm Trail) used by cattle drivers

  • Cattle ranchers were forced to change their practices, and organize defined, enclosed ranches rather than drive cattle across the open range

Farmers fall on hard times

Farmers Fall on Hard Times

  • In the 1880s, a serious drought struck the Plains, wiping out many farmers and ranchers

  • In the 1890s, excessive wheat production caused grain prices to drop, hurting farmers again

  • To survive, farmers often mortgaged their land to banks, but frequently lost their land when they couldn’t meet their mortgage payments

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