The Transcontinental Railroad Essay, Research Paper On May 10, 1869, one of the most important achievements in the history of transportation was born. In Promontory, Utah, the completion of the transcontinental railroad marked the beginning of a new era in moving the nation. Two rival railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, with the help of the government, worked together and completed the famous route in just less than seven years.
The Transcontinental Railroad Essay, Research Paper
On May 10, 1869, one of the most important achievements in the history of transportation was born. In Promontory, Utah, the completion of the transcontinental railroad marked the beginning of a new era in moving the nation. Two rival railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, with the help of the government, worked together and completed the famous route in just less than seven years. The development of the transcontinental railroad that connected the United States significantly supported the urbanization and development of the West.
In 1818, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, then editor of the St. Louis Enquirer, wrote a series of editorials proposing a network of roads and canals to connect the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. This was the first idea of a transcontinental transportation system. Besides the economic benefit to the coast and the states in between, promoters hoped to capture European and Asian trades, especially China and Japan. What the U.S. government was more interested in, however, was final confinement of the Indians. It figured the railroad would hasten this along. The government also wanted to reduce the cost of sending mail and supplies to the west.
It wasn t until 1853, that Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War, authorized army engineers to explore the five best routes to the Pacific. No one could agree on an eastern starting point because whatever state it was would most likely gain an economic and political advantage. They also couldn t agree on a route. The Southerners didn t want the route to go through the north, and vice-versa. All routes were viable, but the southern route on the 32nd parallel would be the cheapest.
Instead Theodore H. Judah, an engineer in the Sacramento Valley, surveyed the final route. The Bidwell-Bartleson party that traveled through Utah and Nevada in 1841 used part of this route. Judah was obsessed with building a transcontinental railroad and convinced merchants Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis P. Huntington, forever known as The Big Four, to invest in a railroad. The Big Four incorporated the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, on June 28, 1861.
Jefferson Davis was the 10th and last child of Samuel Emory Davis, a Georgia-born planter of Welsh ancestry. When he was three his family settled on a plantation called Rosemont at Woodville, Miss. At seven he was sent for three years to a Dominican boys’ school in Kentucky, and at 13 he entered Transylvania College, Lexington, Ky. He later spent four years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1828. Davis served as a lieutenant in the Wisconsin Territory and afterward in the Black Hawk War under the future president, then Colonel Zachary Taylor, whose daughter Sarah Knox he married in 1835. According to a contemporary description, Davis in his mid-20s was handsome, witty, sportful, and altogether captivating. In 1835 Davis resigned his commission and became a planter near Vicksburg, Miss., on land given him by his rich eldest brother, Joseph. Within three months his bride died of malarial fever. Grief-stricken, Davis stayed in virtual seclusion for seven years, creating a plantation out of a wilderness and reading prodigiously in constitutional law and world literature.
In 1845 Davis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and, in the same year, married Varina Howell, a Natchez aristocrat who was 18 years his junior. In 1846 he resigned his seat in Congress to serve in the war with Mexico as colonel in command of the First Mississippi volunteers, and he became a national hero for winning the Battle of Buena Vista (1847) with tactics that won fame even in the European press. After returning, severely wounded, he entered the Senate and soon became chairman of the Military Affairs Committee. President Franklin Pierce made him secretary of war in 1853. Davis enlarged the army, strengthened coastal defenses, and directed three surveys for railroads to the Pacific, one of them being the transcontinental railroad.
During the period of mounting intersectional strife, Davis spoke widely in both North and South, urging harmony between the sections. When South Carolina withdrew from the Union in December 1860, Davis still opposed secession, though he believed that the Constitution gave a state the right to withdraw from the original compact of states. He was among those who believed that the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, would pressure the South and that the result would be disastrous.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the “Act to Aid in the Construction of a Railroad and Telegraph Line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. The Union Pacific Railroad Company established and authorized to construct a single line of railroad and telegraph from a point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa to be fixed by the President of the United States. Upon completion of forty consecutive miles of any part of the railroad, the company would receive title to five alternate sections of land on each side of the line and “bonds of the United States of one thousand dollars each, payable in thirty years after date, bearing six per centum per annum interest … to the amount of 16 said bonds per mile.” The Central Pacific was authorized to construct a railroad from the Pacific coast to the eastern boundary of California under the same terms and conditions as the Union Pacific. (Brown)
The Central Pacific held their groundbreaking ceremony on January 8, 1863 in Sacramento. On November 2, 1863, the chief engineer for the Central Pacific Railroad of California, Theodore Judah, died in New York of Yellow Fever contracted in Panama. Nevertheless, just a month later the groundbreaking ceremony held by the Union Pacific in Council Bluffs, Iowa took place, and the race was finally on.
Because the government refused to give the two railroad companies an ample amount of money, the Union Pacific started what was later known as the Credit Mobilier, which ended up bringing in lots of money. The Credit Mobilier of America was a joint-stock company responsible for a major political scandal in the United States. It was first chartered in 1859 as the Pennsylvania Fiscal Agency. In 1864, the agency came under the control of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, which renamed it Credit Mobilier and made it the railroad’s construction company. In effect, the same men owned the Union Pacific and Credit Mobilier, and they awarded the railroad’s construction contracts to Credit Mobilier. Under the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864, the federal government gave the Union Pacific large loans and land grants to build a transcontinental railroad to the West Coast. In building the railroad, the Union Pacific paid unreasonably high bills submitted by Credit Mobilier, and the Credit Mobilier owners benefited immensely.
The managers of Credit Mobilier tried to ensure that the U.S. Congress did not question the way the railroad managed its business. They did this by offering Credit Mobilier stock at far below market value to certain key congressmen and other federal government officials. The participants were even allowed to pay for the stock out of dividends they expected to earn from it. Oakes Ames, the head of Credit Mobilier and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, secured the participation of several important officials. That accused of participating included Representatives Schuyler Colfax and James A. Garfield and Senator James W. Patterson. Colfax became Vice President of the United States in 1869. Garfield served as President in 1881.
Credit Mobilier’s dealings were revealed in 1872. Congress investigated the company and issued two reports. But it did little more than to censure Ames, Patterson, and Representative James Brooks, another participant in the scandal. Ames argued that Credit Mobilier should not be singled out for criticism because similar financial manipulation and bribing of congressmen were widespread. The scandal resulted in mounting criticism by reformers of the standards of public morality in the 1870’s.
The building of the transcontinental railroad was a long a grueling task. The transcontinental railroad got off to a slow start due to the Civil War and lack of investors, but from 1863 the race was on. The railroad overcame granite, bad winters, heat of the desert, lack of supplies, and Indians, but the thousands of workers still plowed forward. The two connecting railroads for two hundred miles in Utah Territory overlapped the surveying and grading crews with blasting crews too close for comfort. The Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad lost many Chinese coolies (unskilled laborers) to accidents. Finally, the government in January of 1869 sent a commission of civil engineers to decide where the two railroads should meet. Eventually, the final decision was for Promontory Summit.
Promontory Summit is 56 miles west of Ogden Utah territory. May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit in Utah territory, the first of five transcontinental railroads were completed. The golden spike was driven in the last tie plat to commemorate the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit as the first completed transcontinental railroad as directed by the Pacific Railway Act. The striking of the golden spike at Promontory Summit symbolized a nation that was now joined with 3500 miles of transcontinental railroad.
The transcontinental railroad passenger train service began five days later from Omaha with the trip costing $111 for plush, first class and scheduled to take 4 days, 4 hours and 40 minutes, second class was $80 with a few lesser defined amenities and the raw immigrant class of $40 with no amenities. Transcontinental Railroad trips were lengthened due to washouts, buffaloes, train robberies and Indians.
After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the population of many cities grew. As shown in the graph below, the population of San Francisco increased steadily from 1850 until 1900. Los Angeles, which was even farther from the connection point of the west, Sacramento, did not show much growth until 1880. This was mainly due to the fact that Los Angeles was very distant from Sacramento, as they are on opposite ends of the state of California. Sacramento, being the connection point, unexpectedly placed last of the four cities in growth. This may have been caused by the size of Sacramento, and the fact the San Francisco was an immigration haven for the Pacific. The wildcard, Omaha, showed significant growth but only after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. San Francisco, the city with the most growth, was most likely the main destination for people coming from the east, being that it was growing very rapidly at the time. Plainly, after the completion of the railroad, all the cities showed growth.
In conclusion, the development of the transcontinental railroad that connected the United States significantly supported the urbanization and development of the West. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, population figures all show growth in cities along the famous line. Also, in all four cases, (Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Omaha) before 1870, the population stayed steady except for San Francisco, and that growth (before 1870) was due to other causes, mainly being immigration from the far east. Omaha benefited the most out of the four, the reason being that the population in Omaha before the transcontinental railroad was the lowest of all of the cities shown. It then grew to almost 150,000 people, magnifying the population from 1850 by more than 150 times. Even though Sacramento was the first major connection in California, it happened to be that San Francisco became the main connection on the West Coast.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Bain, David Haward. Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad. New York: Viking, 1999.
Brown, Dee. Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow. New York: Holt, 1977.
De Golyer, Everett L., Jr. The Track Going Back: A Century of Transcontinental Railroading, 1869-1969. Amon Carter, 1979.
Dillon, Sidney. Historic Moments: Driving the Last Spike of the Union Pacific. Scribner s Magazine, August 1892.
Warman, Cy, Tales of an Engineer. Scribner s Magazine, June 1895.
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