Railroads in United States
Laid out in 1827 and opened in 1830, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) was the first common freight railroad and the first railroad open to the public in the United States. Initially, the B&O served the Maryland region and gradually extended in the 1830s to Washington, DC, Virginia, and West Virginia along the Ohio River. In the decades following its creation, the B&O grew to cover large swaths of the Northeast and Midwest, becoming one of the largest railroads of the 19th century along with others such as the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Union Pacific.
The Private Sector and the Railways
In the middle of the 19th century many other companies soon followed the B&O and laid more miles of track and expanded capacity for the transportation of goods and people. Although American railroads of the past often received grant money and land from the government, the United States railroad industry developed and grew almost entirely from a private sector. In Europe, the government often nationalized and took away direct control of the railways.
A confluence of factors helped drive tremendous growth in the US railroad sector during the 19th century. The development of the train required steam engine powered trains. Also, the industrial revolution and relative explosion in manufacturing needed movement of raw materials and finished products. The fledgling railroads were in competition with bygone canals like the Erie Canal for the highly lucrative business of freight transportation. However, the railways were much more efficient than the canals for transportation reasons and also dominated the landscape.
The First Transcontinental Railroad: 1862-1869
In the midst of the Civil War, the Union recognized the railroads that transported goods and troops as important. The government also recognized the importance for the commercial future after the war. In 1862, the country was in economic crisis, but abundant in land. In 1862, Congress and President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act.
Unite the coasts, East and West
The government issued loans and the law laid out the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento, California and the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska. The law stimulated to join each other. The Pacific Center was built on the east and the Pacific Union was built on the west. The railroads were granted ownership of the land their tracks ran through, as well as sections of adjoining acres for whatever purpose they wished (land speculation could be lucrative). There, both corporations had a strong financial incentive to lay as much track humanly possible.
White workers were paid more than Chinese workers and white workers were preferred to take management positions over Chinese workers. Working conditions were terrible. Aside from the long hours and hard work, many workers died as a result of explosions that blew up between mountains such as the California Sierra Nevada.
On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific met and connected at Promontory, Utah (north of Salt Lake). Tracks were found 690 miles east of Sacramento and 1,086 miles west of Omaha.
Coast to Coast Travel
With this new form of communication, Travelers from the East Coast would never again have to travel by ship under South America (Strait of Magellan). Or take the physically harrowing trek across the Isthmus of Panama to reach the West Coast. It was something revolutionary. It was only surpassed in 1929 when the first combined plane and rail trip was made.
What is the history of railroads in the United States of America?
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