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The transcontinental railroad began construction in 1863. The Union Pacific Railroad (originating from Nebraska) and the Central Pacific Railroad (originating from California) merged at Promontory Point in May 1869.
The History Behind Railroads
1850s: Bessemer and Kelly kick off mass railroad construction by discovering how to produce high-quality steel.

*In 1860, there were approximately 30,000 miles of track. By 1900, there was a six time increase to 193,000 milles!

1865: U.S. government grants land and subsidies to companies to build railroads.

1869: The transcontinental railroad is completed at Promontory Point, Utah (see figure on the left).

1870: Cornelius Vanderbilt uses his steamboat profits to consolidate local rails into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, creating one of the first giant corporations in American history.

1870s: Andrew Carnegie employs vertical integration, or having a company control every stage of the industrial process, to manufacture steel. By 1900, Carnegie Steel had climbed to the top of the steel industry.

1877: The Great Railroad Strike. The first major post-Civil War strike. Railroad companies in Baltimore and Ohio cut wages to reduce costs. Protest spread across 11 states and was only put down with federal troops. Even after 100+ deaths, some companies still made no reforms.

How did you know you were near a railroad? Fairly popluated towns and economic activity would spring near tracks.

Obstacles
- In the early decades of railroad building (1830-1860), federal government gave more than 170 million acres of land grants to get finance from new frontier settlers. Some backfires were hasty construction, and corruption.
- A premature attempt to railroad corruption was through the 1870 Granger laws. These western-state attempts established maximum freight and passenger rates. However, the Granger laws were overturned by courts.
- Farmers especially recognized the growing power of the railroad industry. In 1890, the National Farmers' Alliance met in Ocala, Florida and drew up the Ocala Demands. Among their demands, the members demanded that Congress reclaim the lands that belonged to railroads; actual settlers should control the territory.
- The federal Interstate Commerce Act of 1886 set up the first federal regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, through the Supreme Court case, Wabash vs. Illinois. The commission gained more power towards the early 20th century, but its main focus was to ensure fair rates on railroads.
- An 1893 financial panic forced a quarter of all companies into bankrupcy. Bankers worked to consilidate these closed companies, which in turn eliminated competition, stabilized rates, and reduced debts. Regional railroad monoplies formed under men including Cornelius Vanderbilt, James J. Hill, and Collis P. Huntington. Often, these bosses would take advantage of the farmers' dependency on crop transportation by juicing up prices.

Postive Outcomes
- Railroads encouraged mass production, mass consumption, and economic specialization. Resources used by railroads, such as coal and steel, profited.
- In 1872, Westinghouse patented his railway air brake, allowing longer, heavier, and faster trains to stop through air pressure, rather than by steam.
- Lumberjacks eagerly cleared paths for routes and sold their timber back home.
- Buffalo hunters practically eliminated all buffalo in attempt to clear rails of these enormous, free-roaming creatures.

Fun fact! By the 1900s, Chicago was nicknamed the "slaughterhouse of the nation" because of the high number of bison that were transported there by the railroads.

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Did you know: When railroads were first introduced, passengers had to change their watch once every twelve miles! On November 18th, 1883, four time zones were created. This action was not officially standardized until 1918.



Bibliography