The TransContinental Railroad

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The TransContinental Railroad “If any act symbolized the taming of the Northwest frontier, it was the driving of the final spike to complete the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.”1 The first railroad west of the Mississippi River was opened on December 23, 1852. Five miles long, the track ran from St. Louis to Cheltanham, Missouri. Twenty-five years prior, there were no railroads in the United States; twenty-five years later, railroads joined the east and west coasts from New York to San Francisco.2 No other single factor contributed more the commercial and social development of the Pacific Northwest than the arrival of the railroad. For the first time in history, people could get to the west coast in a matter of days rather than months by covered wagons or boat around the southern tip of South America. Immigrants, adventurers, opportunity-seekers, and entrepreneurs came by the hundreds of thousands. “Between 1887 and 1889, the railroad brought into the area an estimated 100,000 people.” 3 “The population of Washington in 1880 was 75,116. By 1890, it had reached 349,390, a 365 percent increase in just ten years.” 4 The Pacific Northwest advanced in a single generation the development that took the eastern United States several generations to accomplish as they went from a frontier to urban society. As a result of railroad surveys commissioned during the 1860’s for the purpose of finding practical routes to the Pacific, three railroads were chartered for westward transcontinental expansion. These railroads were the Union Pacific, Central Pacific, and the Northern Pacific. The Union Pacific came from Omaha in the east, the Central Pacific came from Sacramento in the west, and met each other at Promont... ... middle of paper ... ...aphy Cocke, William. A Historical Album of Washington. Brookfield, Connecticut: The Milibrook Press, Inc., 1995. Dodds, Gordon B. The American Northwest Inc. Arlington Heights, Illinois: The Forum Press, 1986. Dryden, Cecil. Dryden's History of Washington. Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1968. Editors. The Wild West. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1993. Feagans, Raymond J. The Railroad That Ran With the Tide. Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1972. Nolan, Edward W. Northern Pacific Views The Railroad Photography of F. Jay Haynes, 1876-1905. Helena, Montana: Montana Historical Society Press, 1983. Riegel, Robert Edgar. The Story of the Western Railroads. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1964. Schwantes, Carlos A. The Pacific Northwest, An Interpretive History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
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