Railroad construction is an important event to consider when mapping the history of the United States. Most of the immigration and emigration that happened in the West was a direct result of these railroads. The first transcontinental railway construction was championed by President Abraham Lincoln. In 1862, Lincoln signed the Pacific Railways Act of 1862.
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That meant the Federal government would fund the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Although construction of the railroad was set to commence on the same year, events surrounding the Civil War caused delays. When the construction finally began, it was divided into two parts.
The first part of the construction was on the east and it was assigned to the Central Pacific Authority. The western part was relegated to the Union Pacific authority.
Most construction on the railroad was undertaken by Chinese and Irish labourers. The Chinese were mainly in the eastern part of the construction. On the other hand, the Irish did most of the work on the west. Construction of the railway was not solely meant to offer a mode of transportation. It was also a new form of technology that was meant to revive the West.
Construction of the railroads was only second to the Federal government when it came to important factors that were to shape the West. From the time the railway was commissioned, it was clear that it was to become the most favourable mode of transportation. The country’s economy was maturing at the time and railway transport looked like an efficient mode of transport.
When it was completed in 1869, it fuelled the exploitation of the Western plains in a big way. The railroad led to the stimulation of the Union Pacific’s economy.
It also increased the number of immigrants settling in the West. In addition, an immense number of employment opportunities came about as a result of this completion. A great American once said that the railroad was the “key” that was to open up the West and its resources to the rest of the world.
Before construction of the railroad, the west was a forlorn land that was completely shut out from the rest of the world. It is a common perception that the railway introduced the west to the world, and also helped the west receive the rest of the world. Because of the railroads, the West became a permanent addition to the existing world. The structure of the population in the West was also changed.
Some of the Irish immigrants that were involved in the construction of the railroad settled in the region. Economically, the railroad made it possible to undertake large-scale mining. Unexploited land was turned into ranches and through this railroad large scale agriculture finally arrived in the West. The prairies were eventually transformed into farmlands.
This also led to the introduction of new plants and crops to the West. Due to the heightened economic activity that was made possible by the railroads, the region started witnessing construction of tunnels, bridges, depots, and roundhouses. Because of such constructions, it was possible to distribute newspapers and mail in the Great West.
The Union Pacific railroad was mostly constructed by Irish immigrants. The immigrants were former war veterans of the confederate and union armies during the civil war. The Mormons also supplied labour for the construction of the Union Pacific part of the railroad. The Irish did the work strictly for monetary reasons.
The Mormons on the other hand were hoping that the railroad was going to open up their Utah neighbourhood to the rest to the world. When the railroad was completed, the Immigrants who were entering the United States using the eastern seaboard used the railroad to travel to the West.
Those who were in charge of the railroad encouraged this migration because they believed it would lead to increased business. For instance, Kansas had an influx of immigrants from Mexico, Russia, and Europe because of a marketing campaign initiated by the railroad authorities. Some of these early settlements have been responsible for shaping the settlement patterns of the American population.
Not everyone in the west was happy with the construction of the railroad. The Native Americans were against its construction because they believed it would interfere with their way of life. The Native Americans were of the view that the treaty they had signed with the Federal government was being violated by this construction. Some of their activities were also affected by the settlements along the railroad.
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For instance, one of the most popular activities in the west was buffalo hunting. When mines and settlements came up, this activity was largely affected. The Native Americans tried to react to this by killing the Irish workers in war parties. However, the tide that was the railroad was too hard to stop. As a reaction to this, the Native Americans migrated further west to what is famously known as the “wild wild west”.
The effects of the railroad on the settlement of the Great West were fast and unprecedented. The population trends and the economic activities of the Great West were also altered. The railroad introduced new people, crops, and occupations to the West. On the other hand, the mines and fertile lands of the West were opened up to the rest of the world. Such was the enormity of the role played by the railroads in changing the West.