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 California.
The company received huge sums of money and land to build its tracks, but corruption also
plagued it, as the insiders of the
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
, 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.
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