The country, from its business to the atmosphere to also its ide of time, to be profoundly changed after the perfect of the railroad"s 1,776 mile of track.

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There was a time when traveling native the East shore to the West coast meant riding because that months in a horse-drawn wagon or stagecoach, or cruising southward come Panama and also then crossing the Isthmus to board another ship because that a journey up the other coast. But that all readjusted on may 10, 1869, when railroad baron Leland Stanford whacked in a ceremonial yellow spike to note the joining together of the tracks of the central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific rail in Promontory, Utah, to type the transcontinental railroad. The new rail connection eventually do it feasible to take trip in a train car from new York to san Francisco in just a week’s time.

Some 21,000 workers—from Irish-American Civil war veterans, freed slaves and Mormon pioneers come Chinese laborers—had to be recruited to execute the hard and also often dangerous work-related of laying the 1,776 miles of track. By one estimate, the project cost approximately $60 million, about $1.2 exchange rate in today’s money, though other sources placed the amount even higher.

While the railroad's construction was a mammoth undertaking, its effects on the country were same profound. Here are some of the methods that the first transcontinental railroad—and the countless other transcontinental present that adhered to it—changed America.


Map the the transcontinental route of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad and also its connections, circa 1883. 

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1. It made the west U.S. Much more important. 

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

2. That made commerce possible on a large scale. 

By 1880, the transcontinental rail was transferring $50 million precious of freight every year. In enhancement to moving western food crops and also raw products to East shore markets and also manufactured products from East shore cities come the West Coast, the railroad likewise facilitated international trade.

The first freight train to travel eastward native California brought a load of Japanese tea. “The Constitution noted the legal framework for a solitary national sector for trade goods; the transcontinental railroad provided the physical framework,” explains Henry W. Brands, a professor at the university of Texas in ~ Austin, and also author of Dreams that El Dorado: A background of the American West. “Together they offered the United says the single largest industry in the world, which provided the basis for the rapid growth of American industry and farming to the allude where the U.S. By the 1890s had the most an effective economy top top the planet.”


3. The made travel more affordable. 

In the 1860s, a six-month stagecoach trip throughout the U.S. Expense $1,000 (about $20,000 in today’s dollars), according to the college of Houston’s Digital background website. But once the railroad was built, the cost of a coast-to-coast trip became 85 percent less expensive. The made it possible for americans to visit remote locales that formerly they could only have heard about.

4. It changed where american lived. 

During the railroad’s construction, countless temporary “hell on wheels” communities of tents and also wooden shacks sprung up along the path to provide living soldier for workers. Most of them at some point disappeared, yet others, such together Laramie, Wyoming, advanced into communities that detailed rail terminals and also repair facilities. Additionally, around 7,000 cities and also towns across the country began as Union Pacific depots and also water stops. And, as Ronda notes, the first transcontinental railroad and also the other lines that followed made it straightforward for immigrants to spread throughout the nation. “People come throughout the Atlantic top top ships, gain on trains, and end increase in locations such together western Nebraska,” that says.

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5. It changed Americans’ concept of reality. 

In one 1872 article, naturalist man Muir created that the transcontinental rail “annihilated” time and space. As Ronda explains, it readjusted the way that human being viewed distances. “When you’re walking or riding a horse, you endure the world one way, yet when you’re sit in a rail car, you view it differently,” the says. “In the West, whereby the ranges are for this reason great, the railroad brought near and far closer together.” The railroad schedules additionally helped to push the United claims into transforming how it marked time, resulting in the fostering of standard time area in 1883.