With the advantage of 150 years of hindsight, we will acknowledge at this time that the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869 was of larger significance to the folks of america, culturally, socially, and economically, than the inauguration of steamship service throughout the Atlantic or the laying of the Atlantic Ocean telegraph cable.
In an period of interstate highways and fast air journey, it’s tough to think about simply how remoted these components of america farthest from the oceans had been, whilst late because the mid-Nineteenth century. That the majority optimistic of our early presidents, Thomas Jefferson, referred to the “immense and trackless deserts” within the Louisiana Buy. The explorer Zebulon Pike in contrast these lands to “the sandy wastes of Africa.” Daniel Webster declared Wyoming Territory “not price a cent,” being, furthermore, “a area of savages, wild beasts, shifting sands, whirlwinds of mud, cactus, and prairie canine.”
Maps of North America as late as 1900, three many years after the railroad connecting New York with San Francisco had been launched, confirmed 500,000 sq. miles ominously labeled “Nice American Desert,” a reputation invented 75 years earlier by a authorities surveyor. This wilderness lined practically one-sixth of the 45 States of the younger American republic — together with the but untamed territories of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, lands admitted to the Union solely after the flip of the 20th century.
It was Jefferson who deserve credit score for being the primary to take motion in direction of opening a industrial route between the Japanese states and the Pacific. Whereas he was in France in 1779 as United States Minister at Versailles, he requested John Ledyard to conduct a survey for him, however Ledyard was unable to hold it out. For the subsequent seven many years, a distinguish line of far-sighted People sought to discover a technique to bridge the American West with the American East, and their tales are preserved in a handful of wonderful histories of the Nineteenth century.
Accounts of the creation of the Panama Canal and the forging of the trans-continental railroad had been finest sellers within the Roosevelt and Taft administrations. No extra. Sadly, we now have forgotten this a part of the American fairy story. And so it was with pleasure that I acquired a way of the transformative nature of the rails linking the 2 coasts of the North American continent from William Francis Bailey’s The Story of the First Trans-Continental Railroad, (Pittsburgh: 1906), The Pittsburgh Printing Firm. I learn the e-book on a Kindle, downloaded from Mission Gutenberg. I additionally downloaded a facsimile copy of the e-book itself from the Web Archive in order that I might take a look at the textual content and “really feel” the e-book.
This can be a story stuffed with eccentric and visionary characters, together with Asa Whitney, dubbed the “Father of the Pacific Railway.” He was an American service provider with extensive abroad expertise, primarily in China. He proposed to Congress that america deed to him a strip of land sixty miles extensive, the railroad to be its backbone, from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Coast. Whitney proposed to make use of proceeds from “colonizing” (his phrase) this windfall of land with European immigrants (to whom he would promote land adjoining the railroad) to pay for the tracks, retaining no matter surplus remained for his non-public fortune. Whitney was indefatigable, travelling from Maine all the best way to the reaches of the Missouri River at a time when visiting the Missouri was akin to exploring the Nile.
Although the Senate Committee On Public Lands permitted Whitney’s proposal in 1848, the invoice “Authorizing Asa Whitney, his heirs or assigns, to assemble a railroad from any level on Lake Michigan or the Mississippi River he could so designate, in a line as practically straight as practicable, to some level on the Pacific Ocean the place a harbor made be had” failed a vote by the complete Senate primarily as a result of it was deemed, together with the $4,000 yearly wage Whitney demanded, just too wealthy a deal for Whitney.
A Missouri senator opposed the measure as one that may “give away an empire bigger in extent than eight of the unique states with an ocean frontage of sixty miles, with contracting powers and patronage exceeding these of the president of america.” It was a good criticism. Asa Whitney didn’t get his “empire.” Had Whitney succeeded in his plan, his “heirs and assigns” would now personal extra American acreage than anybody apart from the Federal authorities itself. Congress later determined to undertake the railroad as a nationwide enterprise, not a personal enterprise managed by a single non-public citizen.
So what in actual fact occurred to hyperlink the 2 coasts? What exactly can we imply by the “Trans-Continental Railroad”? It seems first solely as a dream within the minds of males like Abraham Lincoln and his predecessors, typically referred to as “the overland path to the Pacific Ocean” or the “Pacific Railroad.” In that period, it was as formidable a technological feat because the moon touchdown a century later. It required laying some 1,905 miles of contiguous monitor, beginning in 1863 and persevering with at a frenetic tempo for six years, capped by a ceremony at Promontory Summit in Utah on Might 10, 1869, a gathering virtually spiritual in its depth, wherein the final spike (this one made from silver, and prudently eliminated the identical day for exhibition at railroad headquarters!) was slammed into the ultimate tie to conjoin the eastbound with the westbound tracks. Quickly, a locomotive might pull a protracted practice from the port of New York to the port of San Francisco.
Because the vehicles started to maneuver east and west, the nation all of the sudden had a speedy, dependable, and cheap mechanized expertise to maneuver folks and cargo wherever within the nation inside entry, by horse or cart, of the brand new stations alongside the rail route. The railroad “shrank the nation” and made it doable for Horace Greeley and different newspaper philosophers of that period to fairly recommend to claustrophobic Easterners that they “Go West” to make their fortunes. Earlier than the railroad, that meant taking 9 months or extra in a mule-drawn cart to succeed in the Pacific. Within the many years after the linkinh of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail, distant and sparsely settled “territories” had been admitted to the Union as new states, drastically including to America’s dimension and status.
Bailey’s narrative is swish and informative. It might be exhausting to overstate the importance of the trans-continental railroad as a feat of expertise and astute financial improvement, surpassing, certainly, the digging of the Erie Canal within the 1820s and the creation of that spider’s skein of rails crisscrossing the East Coast states whereas the American West was nonetheless thought of “wild” and as unexplored as Central Africa.
It was a powerful freeway for commerce and journey that led on to the settlement and incorporation of California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming as states within the ever-expanding American republic.
Bailey’s historical past can also be concise, a mere 140 pages within the beautiful Pittsburgh Press version recreated in digital format by Google. What I most savored about Bailey’s writing was the sense of pleasure that he conveys about this unbelievable re-invention of America, akin to the thrill I personally felt as a teen watching the moon missions unfold on CBS tv.
This e-book needs to be learn and reread not as an onerous process, reacquainting ourselves with an essential chapter in American historical past, however just because it’s gripping and enjoyable. It is a story that deserves to be contemporary in our consciousness of our nation and the individuals who settled it.