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Railroads in America. 1862-1917. The Beginning of Railroads in the United States.

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the beginning of railroads in the united states
The Beginning of Railroads in the United States
  • Although the first real railroads officially started in America around 1826, they didn’t to become common until the Civil War. During those years, most railroads were located in the industrialized North, where they could be most effective.
  • In 1862, president Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act which authorized the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. This would eventually lead to the widespread coverage of railroads in the U.S.
  • The benefits of this new technology were enormous. Railroads enabled a safe and reliable way for mass amounts of food, people, and raw materials to travel cross-country in just a matter of days. Things that once seemed impossible, became a reality.
  • Ultimately, this transportation revolution would transform the Untied States socially, politically, and economically.
the first transcontinental railroad
The First Transcontinental Railroad
  • The first transcontinental railroad in American history began in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, which granted the Union and Central Pacific Railroad Company’s permission to start the construction of the tracks.
  • Since this was such a massive project, the government gave thousands of dollars per mile in subsides to the Railroad companies in exchange for discounted rates. They also provided land grants so the companies could lay more track.
  • Some historians claim that the government promoted waste and corruption by handing out these freebees. Historian Thomas Woods states, “The government subsides introduced perverse incentives, all chronicled by Professor Folsom. Since the railroad companies received land and loans in proportion to the amount of track they laid, management had an incentive to lay track rapidly in order to collect as much cash as possible. There was much less emphasis on the quality of the track laid or following the shortest possible route then there would have been in the absence of these government handouts”(Woods, 94).
  • One of the actual Union Pacific chief engineers was quoted saying, “I never saw so much needless waste in building railroads. Our own construction department has been inefficient.”
  • In spite of all the corruption and hardships, the two companies would eventually meet and officially finish construction on May 10,1869, in Promontory, Utah. Although the first transcontinental railroad had many problems, it was successful in uniting America.
the railroad industry s impact on the west
The Railroad Industry's Impact on the West
  • It can be said that Railroads contributed more than any other factor to the transformation and development of the West.
  • Although millions of Americans moved westward in the days of “manifest destiny” trains brought millions more in the later half of the ninetieth century.
  • Railroads made it possible for large numbers of Americans to settle in places like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. They turned small western towns into huge industrial cities.
  • Railroads also contributed to the slaughtering of American Bison in the West and drastically changed the way Native Americans lived.
cornelius vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt was an American industrialist, born on Staten Island, New York, 1794. He would eventually become one of the wealthiest men in America.
  • Vanderbilt entered the transportation business at the young age of sixteen and eventually worked his way up to power. Ironically, his business career began with the ship industry. It wasn’t until 1862 that Vanderbilt got into the railroad industry. He decided to sell all his steamboats and start buying railroad stock. Within 5 years, he controlled the New York Central Railroad.
  • Although he was a great businessman, he was known for being a notorious “robber baron” that cared little for the average American consumer.
  • When he died in 1877, his net worth was over 100 million dollars (That would be worth $143 billion today). Vanderbilt left most his wealth to his son, William, who would also become an enormously wealthy railroad tycoon.
the workers
The Workers
  • Railroad workers during the 19th century consisted of civil war veterans, freed slaves, cowboys, and immigrants from around the world looking for jobs.
  • Pay usually varied on race. For example, Chinese workers received $30 a month whereas Irish workers received $35 a month and boarding.
  • In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad Company had over 80% of Chinese men consisting as its workforce.
  • Life for railroad workers was by no means easy. They were often overworked and underpaid. Death and sickness was a constant worry and living conditions wereinadequate. This inhuman treatment would eventually lead to unrest in the railroad industry and prompt changes in the way workers were treated.
  • “Wherever we put them, we found them good, and they worked themselves into our favor to such an extent that if we found we were in a hurry for a job of work, it was better to put Chinese on at once."

–Charles Crocker

  • “Without them it would be impossible to go on with the work. I can assure you the Chinese are moving the earth and rock rapidly. They prove nearly equal to white men in the amount of labor they perform, and are far more reliable.”

—E. B. Crocker, 1867.

railroad strikes
Railroad Strikes
  • In 1877, the first major railroad strike took place. The depression of the 1870s had reached its lowest point and railroad workers had been hit hard by salaries cuts. Of the country’s 364 railroads, 89 went bankrupt.
  • On July 13, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad lines made a 10% decrease on the workers salaries and cut their work days to just 3 days a week. Soon after, workers took to the streets and blockaded freight trains near Baltimore and West Virginia, only allowing passenger trains through. Eventually state troops were called in and violence erupted.
  • Soon strikes wereall over the country in places like Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Protestors in Philadelphia set engines, buildings, and equipment on fire, eventually destroying 39 buildings, 104 engines, 46 passenger cars, and over 1,200 freight cars.
  • After a period of 45 days, the strikes finally ended.
  • They left many companies with millions of dollars in damage and had taken the lives of over a 100 people, including women and children.
railroad corruption
Railroad Corruption
  • As American railroads companies grew bigger, they became increasingly powerful and influential. With no government regulation, the industry became enveloped in corruption. Companies often resorted to unethical business practices to achieve the results they desired.
  • One such case happen in 1872, called The Crédit Mobilier scandal.
  • It was discovered in 1873, that major stockholders in the Union Pacific Railroad Company had formed a fake Crédit Mobilier construction company and hired themselves out as contractors at enormous rates and in turn gained huge profits. It was later uncovered that Several U.S. congressmen had been bribed to keep quite about the scandal.
the overall impact of railroads in america
The Overall Impact of Railroads in America
  • Railroads completely transformed the United States socially, politically, and economically during the Glided Age.
  • They were the driving force behind the new industrialized economy and provided speedy transportation of goods and people from coast to coast.
  • As railroads grew in power, they gained more influence on local and state governments, which would eventually prompt the reform-minded Populist and Progressive movements around the turn of the century.
  • After the success of railroads, transportation would never again be viewed the same.
information sources
Information Sources

Website Information-

  • "Chinese-American Contribution to Transcontinetal Railroad." Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum. 2008. 8 Jan. 2009 http://cprr.org/Museum/Chinese.html.
  • Thale, Christopher. "Railroad Workers." The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. 8 Jan. 2009 http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1038.html.
  • Cracraft, Josh. SparkNote on The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917). 8 Jan. 2009http://www.sparknotes.com/history/american/gildedage.
  • "Irish Railroad Workers Buried in Cemetery by the Tracks." The Lower Merion Historical Society. 8 Jan. 2009 http://www.lowermerionhistory.org/texts/schmidtd/irish_cemetery.html.
  • Mintz, S. (2007). The Great Railroad Strike. Digital History. Retrieved 8 Jan 2009 from <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu /database/article_display.cfm?HHID=224>
  • "Railroad Timeline History." Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. 8 Dec. 2008. 8 Jan. 2009 http://www.psrm.org/. Path: History;Global Railway History.  Schultz, Stanley K., and

Schmidt, David.

  • "VANDERBILT, Cornelius." 2009. The History Channel website. 8 Jan 2009 http://www.history.com/encyclopedia.do?articleId=225012.
  • William P. Tishle. American History 102. Course home page. 1999. Dept. of History, University of Wisconsin. 8 Jan. 2009http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist101/lectures/lecture04.html.
video and books sources
Video And Books Sources

Video Information-

  • Railroads, Robberies, and Rebels. Discovery Channel School. 1997.Discovery

Education. 11 December 2008. http://streaming.discoveryeducation.com/

  • Railroads. United Learning. 1997.Discovery Education. 11 December 2008


  • This Is America Charlie Brown. 2006. DVD. Paramount, 2006.

Book Information-

  • Woods, Thomas E., Jr. "How Big Buisness Made Americans Better off." The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Washington DC: Regnery, 2004. 108-93.
photograph sources
Photograph Sources
  • The John Bull. Painting. 9 Jan. 2009 http://www.roberthartung.com/life/index.htm.
  • Carr, Karen. "Buffalo" Kidipede - History for Kids. 2009. January 9, 2009.


  • Chinese Railroad Wokers. Photograph. 8 Jan. 2009 http://www.pandagator.info/images/SanFran/chinese-railroad.jpg.
  • "Cornelius Vanderbilt." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 09 Jan. 2009 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/622929/Cornelius-Vanderbilt.
  • "First Transcontinental Railroad." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 4 Jan 2009, 22:48 UTC. 9 Jan2009


  • Free Great-railroad-strike-of-1877 Clipart. Photograph. 8 Jan. 2009


  • Immigrant Laborers. Photograph. Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum. 8 Jan. 2009


  • Irish Railroad Worker. Photograph. 19th century. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. 8 Jan. 2009 http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=852.
  • Nast, Thomas. Editorial Cartoon On Railroad Corruption. Cartoon. 1880s. Kean Collection/Getty Images. 9 Jan. 2009 http://www.jamd.com/image/g/2627563.
  • Ten Miles of Track Laid in One Day . Photograph. 9 Jan. 2009 http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/blm/ut/8/sec1.htm.
  • "Transcontinental Railroad." PBS . 2003. 9 Jan. 2009 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/tcrr/index.html.
  • Wood, Dave. Train Track Sunset. Photograph. Dave Wood. Flickr.com. 2009. 8 Jan. 2009 http://www.flickr.com/photos/daverexwood/434693491.