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transcontinental railroad

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A train route across the United States, finished in 1869. It was the project of two railroad companies: the Union Pacific built from the east, and the Central Pacific built from the west. The two lines met in Utah. The Central Pacific laborers were predominantly Chinese, and the Union Pacific laborers predominantly Irish. Both groups often worked under harsh conditions.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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What is the transcontinental railroad?

The transcontinental railroad was a train route across the United States that was finished in 1869. The route connected the east and west regions of the U.S. by rail for the first time.

The transcontinental railroad began construction after the Pacific Railway Act was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. While Lincoln was motivated by the railroad’s military potential and his personal interest in railroads, most of the other people involved were motivated by the money the government promised as part of the project.

The transcontinental railroad has been seen as one of the most important building projects in American history. The railroad would greatly help the American economy and make travel to the newly obtained California territory much easier. However, the railroad greatly worsened the life of the Native Americans in the United States because it increased the number of Americans who were moving west and led to the near extermination of the American bison.

As well, the building of the railroad affected a lot of immigrants. The eastern portion of the railroad, under the Union Pacific Railroad, was built mostly by Irish laborers. The western portion, under the Central Pacific Railroad,  was built by Chinese workers. Both companies paid their workers poorly and endangered their lives.

Today, much of the transcontinental railroad is still in use and is operated by Union Pacific Railroad.

Why is transcontinental railroad important?

According to the Library of Congress, Congress had been discussing the possibility of a transcontinental railroad since at least the 1840s. The prefix trans- means “across,” and continental describes something that is related to a continent. The railroad was intended to cross the United States.

The first person to give a serious proposal to Congress was New York merchant Asa Whitney in 1845. While Whitney’s proposal didn’t get support from Congress, it did motivate the body to begin surveying potential routes.

A railroad connecting the coasts was a popular idea at the time, but it always met with argument and debate in Congress. Southern politicians opposed a railroad in the North that would further improve the Northern economy, and Northern politicians strongly opposed a Southern railroad that could be used to expand the slave trade.

Today, the transcontinental railroad is often taught about in schools due to the impact it had on the history of the United States, both good and bad.

Did you know ... ?

In 1852, Congress sponsored three surveys for potential routes of the transcontinental railroad known as the Pacific Railroad Surveys. The man in charge of these surveys was Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Davis would later have a much bigger impact on American history by serving as the President of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

What are real-life examples of transcontinental railroad?

This map shows the finished route of the transcontinental railroad:

Tcrr.com

Most Americans are familiar with the transcontinental railroad because it is often covered in history classes.

 

What other words are related to transcontinental railroad?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The transcontinental railroad was a railroad that connected the northern and southern regions of the United States.

How to use transcontinental railroad in a sentence

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