Negative and Positive Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad
American History to 1877
Dr. Kimberly Weathers
26 June 2012
The Impacts of the Transcontinental Railroad
On May 10, 1869 as the “Last Spike” struck by Leland Stanford now connected the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads across the United States at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory. The transcontinental railroads now complete and America is now destined to move to the forefront of the world’s stage. This new railroad system encouraged the growth of American businesses and promoted the development of the nation’s public discourse and intellectual life.1 At the same time, this new railroad affected many people positively and negatively. This multitude of people includes settlers, Native Americans, and immigrants who mainly live in the central and western United States. The railroad created some much-needed jobs but at the same time, took away people’s homes, land, burial sites and allowing more space for others to grow. Good.
After the Civil War, the railroads rapidly moved ahead of the frontier line. In the last dozen states, joining the Union the railroad clearly preceded both extensive settlement and admission. At the time of their respective admissions, only one of the dozen states, Nebraska, had substantially less than 1,000 miles of railroad, and the group as a whole could claim approximately 23,000 miles of rail line as the joined the Union. In mid 1865, the Great Plains and Mountain West had only 960 miles of line. In the next half-century this rail mileage was improved nearly a hundredfold to more than 90,000 miles of rail across the continent.2 Undoubtedly, the railroad played a significant role in the last American West.
The railroad did more than simply give the West a new look. Trains and tracks out beyond Chicago and St. Louis symbolized development, prosperity, and the promise of the future. 3 For many Americans, railroads and the West is what symbolized the American dream. Even if some westerners questioned the dream and feared its cost, no one doubted that railroads in the West represented an influence for change that was irrefutable and perhaps tempting.
The positive effect of the transcontinental railroad was Americans could travel across the length of the continent in a matter of days, look intently upon their country in its entirety from the train window. Settlers are also excited about the railroad because it allowed them to get across the country easier, quicker and safer to find either land and/or work. It created jobs for poor common citizens of the United States and allowed a greater amount of transmigration to inhabit and populate the Western States of America through the theory and belief of Manifest Destiny.3
This new railroad system from East to West proved to be good for the Chinese, Irish and other immigrants for the simple reason that it permitted the country to let more of them enter America to either get jobs out west or work on the railroad itself. Prior to the Transcontinental Railroad, settlers used to take a train to Iowa, and then take a boat across the Missouri River, and complete their trip out west using stagecoaches.2 The transcontinental railroad seem to create a boom in industry and the development of cattle ranching and farming which provided money for the United States economy.
Not everyone would benefit from the transformations of the new railroad system that linked the west and east together. The railroad was not the beginning of the white settlers battling with the Native Americans, nor was it the final straw. Nevertheless, it was an irrevocable marker of an encroaching white society and an unstoppable force, which would force Indians onto reservations within decades to come.
The railroad affected the Native Americans negatively because the railroad went through their land and destroyed their homes and sacred burial...
Bibliography: "When the Country Was United." Time 93, no. 20 (May 16, 1969): 47. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2012).
Stover, John F. American Railroads. Electronic Resource: University of Chicago Press, 1997. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/Doc?id=10230056
Ronda, James P. "The West the Railroads Made." American Heritage 58, no. 4 (Summer2008 2008): 44-51. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 10, 2012).
“The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad.” Accessed July 12, 2012. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/tcrr-impact/.
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