Blake Higgins 4/29/00 Vail Mountain School Grade 8 The Transcontinental Railroad Although many changes occurred in the mid 1800's in America, such as the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War, the Transcontinental Railroad profoundly changed the U. S. This tremendous project, partly funded by Congress, was one of the key factors that encouraged foreign immigration to America. The Transcontinental Railroad certainly instilled a sense of overwhelming pride in this nation, and it paved the way for the development of the West; however, the construction of the railroad relied upon slave-like labor and the usurpation of Native American lands. Indeed, the Transcontinental Railroad was a monumental accomplishment for the United States, but it came at the expense of many people. Before 1845, the thought of a Transcontinental Railroad was absurd.
In 1832, Dr. Hartwell Carver of Rochester proposed a railroad that would connect the East Coast to the West Coast, and lawmakers laughed at him. Again, in 1838, another man by the name of John Plum sent a petition to Washington asking the government to fund a Transcontinental Railroad. Congress said that, asking the government "To build a railroad to the moon" was impractical (Blumberg 11). In 1845, Asa Whitney changed the government's mind about constructing a railroad. He proposed a plan for the federal Higgins 2 government to fund a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
Whitney was motivated by frustration. It took months to get American made goods to Asia. Therefore, a Transcontinental Railroad across the United States would increase trade with countries in the Eastern Hemisphere because it would take a substantially shorter time to reach Asia from the West Coast. In return, America would receive silk, spices, tea, and other foreign made goods. The settlement of the Oregon territory and the discovery of gold in California increased support for the massive project. In Whitney's argument he stated, "Only a Transcontinental Railroad could develop the wilderness West of the Great Lakes" (Blumberg 12).
Although support for a Transcontinental Railroad was strong, Northern states opposed because a railroad in the Southern states would increase Southern revenue. The Northerners said that this would interrupt the balance of power. On July 1, 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act. "The Act stated that two railroad companies would receive free of charge a 400 foot right away through public lands, and alternating grants of 10 square mile sections of land per mile of track" (Faragher 683).
The two companies would also receive mineral rights on adjacent land. The total land grant from the government amounted to over forty-five million acres. The companies were authorized to build a line Westward from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. Both sides would be built simultaneously toward each other. The names of the two railroad companies would be Union Pacific and Central Pacific; these were the companies chartered by Congress. "The government would pay each company in government bonds: 16, 000 dollars for each mile of track laid East of the Rockies and West of the Sierras, 32, 000 dollars a mile between mountain ranges, and Higgins 348, 000 dollars a mile in the mountains" (The Columbia Encyclopedia 1).
The government gave the companies a 30-year loan for each mile of track laid, but the railroad companies had difficulty finding support for the project. The government bonds would only take effect after the first 40 miles of track were built. A man named Theodore Judah was nominated to find people who would invest heavily in the companies. On one of his crusades for investors, Judah gave a speech in Sacramento. In California he stated, "You will have control of business interests that will make you fortune and fame" (Blumberg 22). After his speech he had only convinced one person, Collis Huntington.
Later, Judah gave another speech above Huntington's store, which was the most prosperous hardware store in the West. "Judah also managed to persuade Mark Hopkins, Huntington's partner, Charles Crocker, who owned a grocery store, and Leland Standford, who operated a wholesale grocery business, to invest" (Blumberg 22). These men became known as the "Big Four"; they became the men who operated the Union and Central Pacific Railroad Companies. Standford was appointed president of the Union and Central Pacific companies, Huntington became vice president, Hopkins became treasurer, and Crocker became construction supervisor.
Although "The Big Four" were the key men involved in the progress of the Transcontinental Railroad, the manual laborers made the true accomplishments. Because of the gold rush, it was difficult to find good workers. They were looking for cheap labor. Many people were needed to work in the harsh working conditions. The work force consisted of poor Americans, Indians, Irish, Chinese, and other foreign immigrants. The two main minorities, employed by Union Pacific and Higgins 4 Central Pacific were the Irish and the Chinese.
At first the railroad companies focused on the Irish due to their strong appearance. But later the companies hired 1, 000 Chinese immigrants as an experiment. Most Chinese had a fragile looking body, weighing an average of 110 pounds. Although they appeared weak, they were fearless and hard working.
Another advantage of hiring Chinese workers was that they drank boiled tea instead of dirty ditch water, and as a result, were less likely to get sick. The Central Pacific made deals with shiploads of Chinese men for cheap labor. People hired by the Union and Central Pacific companies in large cities such as Beijing and Hong Kong recruited men. These men offered to pay the voyage if they would work on the railroad until their debt was paid. This resembled indentured servants of an earlier period in history. These ships could be smelled from miles away before they entered the ports because of unclean and crowded conditions.
Once the weary ships had entered port, armored guards would defend the immigrants from protestors. The Central Pacific Company labor force relied mainly on Chinese immigrants. Chinese people could not get good jobs because of persecution. An example of this occurred at the gold mines.
Skilled Chinese miners would mine gold and ship it back to China. People said that they were taking away America's wealth; they were not welcomed in the gold mines. The railroad companies took advantage of these people. In 1850, there were only 200 Chinese in the West, but by 1852 more than 20, 000 Chinese inhabited the West.
Central Pacific paid them close to nothing at 25 to 40 dollars a month for backbreaking labor. The Irish were paid at least 40 dollars a month. Yet, the Higgins 5 Chinese workers did not get drunk, fight, and they had good hygiene; the Irish said they, "Smelled like little women, smelling of perfume" (Blumberg 42). It was hard for the two railroad companies to maintain harmony between both groups; tensions would rise between the Irish and the Chinese over little issues such as teasing. The greatest challenge and possibly the highest amount of risk took place in the Sierra Mountains. These mountains separated California from the East.
Here the Chinese workers were lowered in baskets over cliff faces higher than 1, 400 feet. Then they had to complete the task of drilling holes in the cliffs, putting dynamite in the holes, and lighting a fuse and being pulled up before the charge ignited. In order to speed up the process of blasting through the mountains, a new type of exp.