transcontinental railroad

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transcontinental railroad,

in U.S. history, rail connection with the Pacific coast. In 1845, Asa Whitney presented to Congress a plan for the federal government to subsidize the building of a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific. The settlement of the Oregon boundary in 1846, the acquisition of western territories from Mexico in 1848, and the discovery of gold in California (1849) increased support for the project; in 1853, Congress appropriated funds to survey various proposed routes. Rivalry over the route was intense, however, and when Senator Stephen Douglas introduced (1854) his Kansas-Nebraska ActKansas-Nebraska Act,
bill that became law on May 30, 1854, by which the U.S. Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. By 1854 the organization of the vast Platte and Kansas river countries W of Iowa and Missouri was overdue.
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, intended to win approval for a line from Chicago, the ensuing sectional controversy between North and South forced a delay in the plans. During the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress enacted legislation (July 1, 1862) providing for construction of a transcontinental line. The law provided that the railroad be built by two companies; each received federal land grants of 10 alternate sections per mile on both sides of the line (the amount was doubled in 1864) and a 30-year government loan for each mile of track constructed. In 1863 the Union Pacific RR began construction from Omaha, Nebr., while the Central Pacific broke ground at Sacramento, Calif. The two lines met at Promontory Summit, Utah, and on May 10, 1869, a golden spike joined the two railways, thus completing the first transcontinental railroad. Others followed. Three additional lines were finished in 1883: the Northern Pacific RR stretched from Lake Superior to Portland, Oreg.; the Santa Fe extended from Atchison, Kans., to Los Angeles; and the Southern Pacific connected Los Angeles with New Orleans. A fifth line, the Great Northern, was completed in 1893. Each of those companies received extensive grants of land, although none obtained government loans. The promise of land often resulted in shoddy construction that only later was repaired, and scandals, such as Crédit Mobilier (see Crédit Mobilier of AmericaCrédit Mobilier of America
, ephemeral construction company, connected with the building of the Union Pacific RR and involved in one of the major financial scandals in American history. Oakes Ames, Thomas C.
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), were not infrequent. The transcontinental railroads immeasurably aided the settling of the west and hastened the closing of the frontier. They also brought rapid economic growth as mining, farming, and cattle-raising developed along the main lines and their branches.


See J. Grodinsky, Transcontinental Railway Strategy, 1869–1893 (1962); R. W. Howard, The Great Iron Trail (1962); L. M. Beebe, The Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads (1963); G. Hogg, Union Pacific: The Building of the First Transcontinental Railroad (1967, repr. 1970); C. E. Ames, Pioneering the Union Pacific (1969); J. J. Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (1969); D. H. Bain, Empire Express (1999); S. E. Ambrose, Nothing zLike It in the World (2000).

References in periodicals archive ?
But that changed in 1869, when the new transcontinental railroad came to Utah.
Endeavor, which reps Ambrose, also has fielded offers for "Wild Blue," and TNT is developing a miniseries based on the historian's "Nothing Like It in the World," a book about the development of the transcontinental railroad.
Lee (whose family came to America to build the transcontinental railroad and prospered as merchants) raises the money to buy the railroad, but his out-of-step endeavor (akin to throwing '90s venture capital after the typewriter) is doomed from the start.
A golden spike was driven into the ground, recalling the completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad.
A transcontinental railroad was suggested in print for the first time in the Emigrant, a weekly newspaper published in Ann Arbor, Mich.
A new sense of the size of the country and its regional differences followed from the war itself, the newly accessible West after completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the abandonment of New England farmlands for those in the Midwest, the rise of the cities, and the waves of immigration.
The driving of the golden spike at Promontory, Utah Territory, in 1869 celebrated not only the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, but also the triumph of human endeavor and courage in conquering the plains, mountains, and deserts of the West.
Along the way, American expansion, Manifest Destiny, development of the transcontinental railroad, and political aspects of the Gadsden Purchase are discussed.
The building of the 2,000-mile transcontinental railroad was a prodigious achievement, the most outstanding engineering feat in the nation until the building of the Panama Canal.
The idea of a transcontinental railroad was not in and of itself bad, but why were so many of these railroads built at a time when there was so little need of them?
These include the discovery of the Lost City of Nevada, encounters with Native Americans, the Pyramid Lake War, the Battle of Egan Canyon Station, the Yellow Jacket Mine fire, the building of the transcontinental railroad, train and bank robberies, the discovery of gold at Battle Mountain, the Humboldt County earthquake, the construction of Hoover Dam, the building of the Flamingo Hotel, high-speed aircraft testing at Area 51, the wedding of Elvis Presley, the PEPCON chemical plant explosion in Henderson, and the Las Vegas flood of 1999.

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