The country, indigenous its commerce to the environment to also its concept of time, to be profoundly changed after the completion of the railroad"s 1,776 miles of track.

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There was a time when traveling indigenous the East coastline to the West shore meant riding for months in a horse-drawn wagon or stagecoach, or sailing southward come Panama and also then crossing the Isthmus to board one more ship because that a trip up the other coast. However that all readjusted on may 10, 1869, as soon as railroad baron Leland Stanford whacked in a ceremonial gold spike to note the joining together of the tracks of the main Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific rail in Promontory, Utah, to form the transcontinental railroad. The new rail connection eventually make it possible to travel in a train car from brand-new York to san Francisco in simply a week’s time.

Some 21,000 workers—from Irish-American Civil battle veterans, freed slaves and Mormon pioneers to Chinese laborers—had been recruited to execute the hard and often dangerous occupational of laying the 1,776 miles of track. By one estimate, the job cost about $60 million, about $1.2 billion in today’s money, though other sources put the amount also higher.

While the railroad's building was a mammoth undertaking, its effects on the country were same profound. Here are some of the means that the an initial transcontinental railroad—and the many other transcontinental lines that followed it—changed America.


Map that the transcontinental course of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad and its connections, circa 1883. 

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1. It made the western U.S. An ext important. 

“What the transcontinental railroad did was bring the West into the world, and also the civilization into the West,” describes James P. Ronda, a retired college of Tulsa professor and also co-author, through Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes, the The West the Railroads Made. In particular, it assisted turn California from a once-isolated ar to a significant economic and political force, and helped result in the state’s quick growth.

2. It made commerce feasible on a huge scale. 

By 1880, the transcontinental rail was transporting $50 million precious of freight every year. In addition to carrying western food crops and also raw materials to East coastline markets and manufactured products from East coast cities to the West Coast, the railroad additionally facilitated international trade.

The an initial freight train to take trip eastward from California carried a load of Japanese tea. “The Constitution noted the legal framework for a single national market for profession goods; the transcontinental railroad provided the physics framework,” describes Henry W. Brands, a professor in ~ the college of Texas in ~ Austin, and also author of Dreams of El Dorado: A the the American West. “Together they offered the United claims the single largest industry in the world, which provided the basis because that the rapid expansion of American industry and agriculture to the suggest where the U.S. By the 1890s had the most powerful economy on the planet.”


3. It made travel an ext affordable. 

In the 1860s, a six-month stagecoach trip across the U.S. Expense $1,000 (about $20,000 in today’s dollars), according to the university of Houston’s Digital website. But once the railroad was built, the expense of a coast-to-coast trip ended up being 85 percent less expensive. The made it feasible for americans to visit far-off locales that formerly they can only have actually heard about.

4. It adjusted where american lived. 

During the railroad’s construction, numerous temporary “hell on wheels” towns of tents and also wooden shacks sprung up along the route to administer living soldier for workers. Most of them ultimately disappeared, however others, such together Laramie, Wyoming, developed into communities that provided rail terminals and also repair facilities. Additionally, about 7,000 cities and towns throughout the country began as Union Pacific depots and water stops. And, together Ronda notes, the first transcontinental railroad and also the various other lines that complied with made it easy for immigrants to spread throughout the nation. “People come throughout the Atlantic on ships, acquire on trains, and end increase in areas such as western Nebraska,” that says.

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5. It changed Americans’ concept of reality. 

In one 1872 article, naturalist man Muir composed that the transcontinental railroad “annihilated” time and also space. Together Ronda explains, it changed the way that people viewed distances. “When you’re wade or talk a horse, you endure the civilization one way, but when you’re sit in a railroad car, you view it differently,” the says. “In the West, whereby the distances are for this reason great, the railroad carried near and also far closer together.” The rail schedules also helped to press the United states into transforming how it significant time, causing the fostering of typical time zones in 1883.