Industry Comes of Age
I. The Iron Colt Becomes an Iron Horse
After the Civil War, railroad production grew enormously, from35,000 mi. of track laid in
1865 to a whopping 192,556 mi. of tracklaid in 1900.
Congress gave land to railroad companies totally 155,504,994 acres.
For railroad routes, companies were allowed alternate mile-squaresections in
checkerboard fashion, but until companies determined whichpart of the land was the
best to use for railroad building, all of theland was withheld from all other users.
Grover Cleveland stopped this in 1887.
Railroads gave land their value; towns where railroads ran becamesprawling cities while
those skipped by railroads sank into ghosttowns, so, obviously, towns wanted railroads
II. Spanning the Continent with Rails
Deadlock over where to build a transcontinental railroad was brokenafter the South
seceded, and in 1862, Congress commissioned the UnionPacific Railroad to begin
westward from Omaha, Nebraska, to gold-richCalifornia.
The company received huge sums of money and land to build itstracks, but
corruption also plagued it, as the insiders of the CreditMobilier reaped $23 million in
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 Irishdropped their
picks and seized their rifles, and scores of workers andIndians died during construction.
Over in California, the Central Pacific Railroad was in charge ofextending the railroad
eastward, and it was backed by the Big Four:including Leland Stanford, the ex-governor
of California who had usefulpolitical connections, and Collis P. Huntington, an adept
The Central Pacific used Chinese workers, and received the sameincentives
as the Union Pacific, but it had to drill through the hardrock of the Sierra Nevada.
In 1869, the transcontinental rail line was completed at PromontoryPoint near Ogden,
Utah; in all, the Union Pacific built 1,086 mi. oftrack, compared to 689 mi. by the Central
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.