Chapter 25 ~ Industry Comes of Age ~ 1865 – 1900
I. The Iron Colt Becomes an Iron Horse
After the Civil War, railroad production grew enormously, from 35,000 mi. of track laid in 1865 to a whopping
192,556 mi. of track laid in 1900.
Congress gave land to railroad companies totally 155,504,994 acres.
For railroad routes, companies were allowed alternate mile-square sections in checkerboard fashion, but until
companies determined which part of the land was the best to use for railroad building, all of the land was
withheld from all other users.
Grover Cleveland stopped this in 1887.
Railroads gave land their value; towns where railroads ran became sprawling cities while those skipped by
railroads sank into ghost towns, so, obviously, towns wanted railroads in them.
II. Spanning the Continent with Rails
Deadlock over where to build a transcontinental railroad was broken after the South seceded, and in 1862,
Congress commissioned the Union Pacific Railroad to begin westward from Omaha, Nebraska, to gold-rich
The company received huge sums of money and land to build its tracks, but corruption also plagued it, as the
insiders of the Credit Mobilier reaped $23 million in profits.
Many Irishmen, who might lay as much as 10 miles a day, laid the tracks.
When Indians attacked while trying to save their land, the Irish dropped their picks and seized their rifles, and
scores of workers and Indians died during construction.
Over in California, the Central Pacific Railroad was in charge of extending the railroad eastward, and it was
backed by the Big Four: including Leland Stanford, the ex-governor of California who had useful political
connections, and Collis P. Huntington, an adept lobbyist.
The Central Pacific used Chinese workers, and received the same incentives as the Union Pacific, but it had to
drill through the hard rock of the Sierra Nevada.
iii. In 1869, the transcontinental rail line was completed at Promontory Point near Ogden, Utah; in all, the Union
Pacific built 1,086 mi. of track, compared to 689 mi. by the Central Pacific.
III. Binding the Country with Railroad Ties
Before 1900, four other transcontinental railroads were built:
The Northern Pacific Railroad stretched from Lake Superior to the Puget Sound and was finished in 1883.
The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe stretched through the Southwest deserts and was completed the
following year, in 1884.
The Southern Pacific (completed in 1884) went from New Orleans to San Francisco.
The Great Northern ran from Duluth to Seattle and was the creation of James J. Hill, probably the greatest
railroad builder of all.
However, many pioneers over-invested on land, and the banks that supported them often failed and went bankrupt
when the land wasn’t worth as much as initially thought.
IV. Railroad Consolidation and Mechanization