The Transcontinental Railroad

Before railroads connected the East and West coasts, traveling across the county could take up to six months, and the journey was dangerous and expensive.  As the population in the West grew, so did the need for safer, more efficient transportation.

In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act, which charged two companies with building the Transcontinental Railroad. With one company starting in San Francisco, California and the other in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the two would build a railway that eventually met in Promontory Summit, Utah. Both railroads faced tough challenges.

The Central Pacific Railroad had to lay track through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, using dynamite to blast through the hard granite rock.   Many workers left the diffficult, low- paying job for other work. Increasingly, Chinese laborers were hired to work for the Central Pacific, and they were not paid or treated the same the same as white workers.

The Union Pacific was responsible for covering more land, including some territory that was unmapped, and faced difficult weather and conditions. Plains Native Americans opposed the railroad, which displaced them and their whole way of life.

In 1869, the two railroads finally connected. The final spike laid was made solid gold! It was now possbile to travel from New York to San Francisco in a week.  

Want to learn more about the Transcontintal Railroad? Just ask a librarian!

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