When America was trying to win its independence over the British in the American Revolution something of even greater significance was happening in England, the Industrial Revolution. Hand tools were being replaced by moving parts. Industry was moving at its greatest speed people had ever seen. Things could be made faster, cheaper, and in greater numbers. By the 1800 s in America, nothing like this was even close to happening. In fact, Thomas Jefferson warned of rapid industrial growth during his farewell address.
Weather or not Jeffersonians wanted it to happen, it did. Immigrants armed with the knowledge of machinery and technology came to the United States. They were willing, hopeful, and capable to repeat what had already been accomplished in Great Britain. An Industrial Revolution calls for a transportation system that is quick and efficient for the moving of raw goods to factories, and finished goods to market. This was virtually non existent in the first 40 years of the United States. In the 1820 s we saw river steamboats running up canals, and the development of the toll road.
Also during this time, railroad pioneers began working for a new and innovative way to link the nation together as never before. The later half of the nineteenth-century would belong to the railroads. They were important in stimulating economic expansion and growth, but their influence reaches very far beyond the economy and was important to American society as a whole. Railroads can be broken down into three major parts: the track, the cars moving over the track, and the power to pull the cars. In the beginning, the rails were made of wood, and later they were topped with a thin strip of metal.
Today they are made of iron or steel. By 1804, English and Americans had experimented with steam engines, but in many cases horses were still being use to haul cars over tracks. There were several such tracks like this around 1800. On October 7, 1826, the Granite Railway Company, with horses supplying the power, began to haul large blocks of granite from a quarry in Quincy to Milton, Massachusetts, for use in the Bunker Hill Monument at Charleston, Massachusetts. This was the first track to have iron plates over the wooden track to provide a smooth running surface for the wheels of the cars. The first steam engine to run on track in America was in 1825.
John Stevens built and operated an enclosed track on his own estate in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was more for show than for anything else. One of the first famous locomotives was called the Tom Thumb, built by Peter Cooper of New York. In August 1830 the Tom Thumb ran from Baltimore to Ellicott's Mill, Maryland.
In an open car sat the first ever passengers of a locomotive. People lined the tracks to see this strange site. On its trip back Cooper of the Tom Thumb was challenged to a race. One of the fastest stagecoach horses in the country raced the Tom Thumb! The Tom Thumb put up a great fight, but eventually lost. However, the loss proved that steam power was practical and useful. Early companies had no concern about their railroad getting too large.
Usually they just had a couple of guys handling all the railroads needs. As time went on the few men that were previously running the station could no longer handle all aspects of the railroad. They eventually broke it down into three parts. Finance was concerned with the collection and distribution of revenues as well as with issuing stocks and bonds. Operations controlled the movement of the trains and their maintenance.
The final department was traffic. They found customers and watched the cost of passenger and freight movement. One thing that was noticed was the different times between cities. Each town set its own clocks according to the sun. It may be 7 oclock in Philadelphia, but it is 7: 07 in New York. For trains this could mean mass confusion and possibly a disaster.
Railway executives divided the continent into 4 time zones so people could know what time it was everywhere. At noon on November 18, 1883, this plan was adopted, and people everywhere changed their clocks. With westward expansion, a growing demand for a transcontinental became stronger and stronger. The gold rush of 1849 turned California into a state, but there was no quick way to get there. A railroad was desperately needed.
The biggest problem was where to build one. As of 1850, there was no passage through the Rocky Mountains. A merchant from New York named Asa Whitney was a major supporter of the transcontinental. He went before congress to give specific geographical locations and even offered to build it on his own. The north and the south had two different ideas on where the railroad should be built.
The south already had decided on the route between the 32 nd and 35 th parallel, because that would keep it in the south, thus making it in slave areas. In 1853 the Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent out James Gadsden, a southern railroad builder, to make a small purchase of land that was owned by Mexico that was necessary to make the southern transcontinental possible. He purchased this land for 10 million dollars. The north made their route as the 48 th parallel. Both sides greatly exaggerated the advantages of their route and the disadvantages of the other route. Eventually the route taken was along the 42 nd parallel, and was never even surveyed.
Another thing disputed was where the starting point in the east would be. The northerners favored Chicago, which was the fast growing industrial city in the North. The southerners were pushing Memphis, St. Louis, or New Orleans- all located in slave states. Eventually Omaha in the east and Sacramento, because of the gold rush, in the west were selected as the locations for the starting and ending points. Another fear was the Indians.
Many feared that the Indians were savages. In 1853 President Franklin Pierce sent out commissioner of Indian Affairs, George W. Manypenny. To visit the Indian country to confer with the various tribes, as a preliminary measure, looking to negotiation with them for the purpose of procuring their assent to a territorial government and the extinguishment of their title, in whole or in part, to the lands owned by them. Manypenny did not visit the tribes that would be mostly effected by the transcontinental.
Instead, he visited the Omaha, Oto, and Missouri, the Sauk and Fox, the Kickapoo, Delaware, and Shawnee. He made treaties from 1854 to 1857, taking from the Indians the land that had been theirs, and claiming it for the United States. Before construction could begin the American Civil War broke out. At the start of the war the north had twice as much track as the south. A numerous amount of southern campaigns focused on destroying northern tracks. However, it was quickly repaired and the north enjoyed a quick and efficient transportation system that would help them to win the war.
Despite the war, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act on July 1, 1862. Now the race was on. The Union Pacific railroad company would lay tracks west from Omaha, while the Central Pacific railroad company would start in Sacramento and would go east. They were contracted to build a railroad and a telegraph line.
But who was to do all this backbreaking work The Union Pacific was mostly made up of ex-Union and ex-Confederate soldiers, hundreds of Irishmen from New York, ex-convicts from everywhere, some plains mule skinners, mountain men, and doubtful bushwhackers. The Central Pacific did not have a sufficient amount of workers. The gold rush had brought in thousands of people from all over, but none sufficient for the Central Pacific purposes. Someone eventually thought of the Chinese. There were thousands of them in California working as house servants, growing vegetables, or operating laundries. No one thought that these tiny Chinese people who averaged about 110 pounds, could do the backbreaking work.
About fifty of them were taken to the end of the track. They made a neat little camp and made their dinner of rice, and then went to sleep very quietly and did not interfere with other peoples business. They got up at the crack of dawn ready to shovel and pick some more. This astonished everyone. Twelve hours later the Central Pacific was wiring Sacramento for more Chinese workers. All the next to come were just as good.
The fight to get the most track laid was a heated one. Congress offered loans to the companies. 16, 000 dollars for every mile of flat prairie terrain, 32, 000 dollars for hilly terrain, and 64, 000 dollars for every mile of mountainous terrain. At many points the companies would purposely lay their track so it winded along a river or something, just so they would make more miles of track.
On some occasions they would lay track during the winter on top of ice and snow. It would have to be replaced in the spring. The manager of the Union Pacific stressed speed and not quality. On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental was completed. The two trains came face to face at Promatory Point, Utah. The completion of this masterpiece brought an end to the isolation of the west by making the journey possible within a week.
A railroad construction boom followed right behind. From 30, 000 in 1860, track mileage grew to more than 201, 000 by the year 1900. By 1885, three more transcontinental had reached the Pacific Ocean. The west was now truly open for all the people of the United States of America. To attract people to the new and wide open space every railroad company formed its own land department and bureau of immigration. The land department would sell the leftover land that was previously granted to them by the government.
They would also try to attract the people out to the sparsely populated area. Bureaus of immigration were of equal importance. They had to advertise the west to the whole world. Immigrants were welcomed and encouraged to come move from their home countries and move to the United States.
The companies would have offices on the eastern seaboard where the immigrants would be welcomed. They would then be given transportation to the west. They would have glossy brochures exaggerating the benefits of the west. But in reality it wasnt all that great. Railroad towns popped up everywhere. Any temporary break in track laying became a town.
They were basically a one street town with little to offer. Some places such as Tacoma, Reno and Fresno became big cities. After the transcontinental, many rails served individual towns rather than continuing to bridge the gap between large areas. Businessmen wanted towns to be formally planned.
This way they could sell the land and planned out town to potential investors, but most railroad towns were basically a failure. In 1863 the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was formed. This was the first union to be successful. Their main goal was not strike oriented, but rather to do simple things like negotiate wages. During the depression of 1877 wages were cut dramatically. Numerous violent strikes broke out in several cities.
In West Virginia the conductors refused to work, and six hundred freight trains jammed the yard. In Baltimore the governor called upon the National Guard to settle the crowds. By the end of day, 10 people had been killed. It had taken 500 soldiers for Baltimore to settle down. In 1877, working people learned that they were not yet united nor powerful enough, to defeat private capital and government power. However, this helped set an example of where labor unions would be going in the future and how much influence they really had.
When the 1900 s came, the railroads experienced a slow decline. The twentieth century did not belong to the railroads. Different means of transportation came into use. The car, bus, and plane all overpowered the trains in practicality. Railroads today are almost a novelty. Several companies offer scenic tours of national parks among other places.
What the railroad has in store for us is yet to be seen. One day there may be a fuel shortage in which we will once again have too look toward the great iron horse that once captivated the nation. Did the invention of the railroad dramatically alter the United States The answer is a well-defined yes. The railroads changed our perception of time and space. No longer did traveling across the country have to be so time consuming. Journeys that took months were now cut dramatically.
The railroads were the first companies to conduct business on a national level. They played an important role in developing new concepts of management and brought forth giant corporations, but usually accompanied by bad financial practices and greed. They provided employment for thousands and thousands of workers, but the conditions under which these laborers had to work and live made them revolt, form labor unions, and inform the nation of working mans hardships. The railroads were also greatly responsible for the settlement of the west, but at the same time helped extinguish the Native American population.
They were a prize to be won during the years before the civil war, yet linked the nation together with the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. They gave immigrants a chance in the new world and offered them financial stability. They helped to bring the nation together as one. One cannot help but think what the nation might have been like without the railroad.