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- 2.1 What was the economic impact of the transcontinental railroad?
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In Railroaded, Richard White describes how transcontinental rail companies shaped the American economy as they built tracks across the U.S. Above, a Union Pacific Rail Road locomotive, pictured in Utah, circa 1894. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption
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The ‘Line In The Sand’ Dividing The U.S. And Mexico
For Cady Stanton, All Women Were Not Created Equal
“They bring about a great giảm giá of political controversy and corruption,” White tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “They yield environmental damage, they are conceptually grand, and in practice, they really amount to being disasters in many respects.”
On the railroad’s legacy of corruption
“It establishes a kind of networking between politics and business that persists to this day. Essentially for me, corruption is quite simple: It’s the trading of public favors for private goods, and that’s what happens repeatedly with the railroads and the federal government.”
On the transcontinental railroads being on a whole new scale
“This is the invention of the modern corporation. This is why railroads are so feared: It’s the first time that Americans come face to face with a new way of organizing the economy on a scale that they had never seen before. The result of this is not just going to be political corruption but, they think, an intervention into the economic lives of ordinary Americans that frightens them.”
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A poster advertises the opening of Union Pacific’s Platte Valley rail route in May 1869: “Omaha through to San Francisco, in less than four days, avoiding the dangers of the sea!” Henry Guttmann/Getty Images hide caption
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Richard White is a professor of American history Stanford University — an institution founded by one of the railroad tycoons he writes about in the book. J. White/ hide caption
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The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
by Richard White
Hardcover, 660 pages |
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TitleRailroadedSubtitleThe Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern AmericaAuthorRichard White
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June 29, 201111:50 AM ET
Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
By Richard White
Hardcover, 660 pages
W.W. Norton & Co.
List Price: $35
Chapter 1: Genesis
It is easier, more delightful, and more profitable to build with other peoples’ money than our own.
In 1860, the year he won the Republican nomination for the presidency, Abraham Lincoln traveled from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Tp New York, a journey of about 825 miles as the crow flies, to give his famous Cooper Union speech. Lincoln, however, traveled considerably farther than the crow. Departing on Wednesday, February 22, it took Lincoln six hours to go by rail from Springfield to State Line, on the Indiana border, where he arrived 4:30 p.m. and transferred to the Toledo, Wabash, and Western. The second leg of his trip took him from State Line to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he arrived just in time to board another train, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago. It was now 1:12 a.m. on Thursday, February 23. The third leg, from Fort Wayne to Pittsburgh, took a little over twenty-four hours. He arrived in Pittsburgh 2:20 a.m. on Friday, February 24. The fourth leg of the trip advanced him from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and through yet another day. That train, fourteen hours late, reached Philadelphia early on Saturday morning, February 25. The final leg of his trip carried him from Philadelphia to Tp New York. He waited several hours for the Pennsylvania Railroad train to Tp New York, about as long as that train took to go between Philadelphia and Jersey City, from which he had to take the Paulus Street Ferry for Tp New York. Reduced to numbers, the trip of twelve hundred miles involved five trains, two ferries, four days, and three nights. The numbers do not capture the discomfort imposed by schedules that shuttled passengers between trains in the middle of the night. They do not record the adrenaline rushes involved in making some transfers and the drowsy tedium of waiting to make others. This was train travel before the Civil War: once technologically impressive and nearly incoherent. It was exhausting, aggravating, uncomfortable, yet, withal, far better than any existing alternative. Americans were prepared to love trains, hate trains, and be unable to live without them.
Like the Union itself, American railroads did not quite cohere. The railroads had grown as fast, and were as disarticulated, as the nation that contained them. The 31,286 miles of tracks united the country only on a map. Impressive in the aggregate, these lines could hardly be thought of as a system or even a collection of systems. A major reason was that there was no single standard gauge for tracks. It was as if hobbyists were trying to connect Lionel with HO tracks. They would not fit together.
The standard gauge in North America today is 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. It is an utterly arbitrary number that spread because the builders of a small English coal road had early success in building larger roads in England by using that gauge and because others conformed to it. By 1860 it was the dominant gauge in much of the eastern United States. It accounted for roughly one-half the total mileage, but it was only one of the more than twenty gauges in use. Five feet was the standard gauge in the South, and 5 feet 6 inches became the standard gauge in Canada.
An individual railroad stopped where its track stopped, but, as long as the gauges were the same, a railroad’s rolling stock could happily roll on along some other railroad’s track, even if few roads the time allowed such a thing. Different gauges were akin to dams in the thin streams of iron flowing through the continent. When gauges changed, traffic stopped. Passengers had to walk to a new train; freight had to be off-loaded considerable expense or cars had to be jacked up and their wheels adjusted before the train could continue its transit. The lines that flowed so cleanly on a map ruptured in reality because of a small difference in space between the rails. Sometimes the different lines coming into a city never actually met. Freight coming into Philadelphia had to be off-loaded and carted across the city to get out of Philadelphia. In Ohio the usual mishmash of gauges and opposition to bridging the Ohio River forced the ferrying of cars. Railroads often did not share terminals, and tracks did not connect their different terminals. A railroad system was “articulated,”the way the bones of a skeleton might connect, but the muscles and tendons were wagons, ferries, and human bodies. Take them away, and the railroad skeleton fell into unconnected pieces.
The Civil War probably destroyed more railroads than it built, but it contributed a great giảm giá to the organization of railroads and even more to the creation of financial and governmental institutions that would in the years following the war breed railroads like rabbits. The war gave không lấy phí rein to men willing to take command, to imagine great things, to innovate, to experiment, and to lose all hold on reality. The abilities to organize, imagine, squander, and wreck unfortunately did not come in separate containers. They were part of a single package that when opened in the 1860s would create the first transcontinental railroads.
Excerpted from Railroaded by Richard White. Copyright 2011 by Richard White. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Co.
What was the economic impact of the transcontinental railroad?
Within ten years of its completion, the railroad shipped $50 million worth of freight coast to coast every year. Just as it opened the markets of the west coast and Asia to the east, it brought products of eastern industry to the growing populace beyond the Mississippi.
What was the most significant economic impact of the transcontinental railroad?
What was the most significant economic impact of the transcontinental railroads during the late 1800’s? Expanding interstate trade by linking the economies of the east and west.
What was the impact of the railroad on the West?
The completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 had a huge impact on the West. It encouraged further settlement in the West as it made travelling their cheaper and easier. It also encouraged the development of towns along the railroad, as the railroad made the west less isolated.
How did railroad expansion impact the West and the US economy?
By 1900, much of the nation’s railroad system was in place. The railroad opened the way for the settlement of the West, provided new economic opportunities, stimulated the development of town and communities, and generally tied the country together.
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