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The Road to Modern America A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad. As revealed in the words of former President Theodore Roosevelt the great influence and power of the railroads in the post Civil War era was astounding. As America emerged from the Civil War, the Iron Horse had already begun to gallop across America. As the railroad continued its run, it helped unleash a flood of westward expansion and gave American Industry a jump start. More than any other factor, the emerging American railroad network influenced the great expansion and industrialization of the post Civil War era. The building of the transcontinental railroad had a devastating effect on immigrants who came to work on the railroads. At first railroad companies hired Irish who came penniless and with little education. They worked on the railroads for long hours and low wages. Soon the Irish grew weary of this treatment and began to revolt, and were thus quickly replaced by the Chinese. By the summer of 1868, 4,000 workers, two-thirds of whom were Chinese, successfully completed railroad construction over the Sierras and the interior plains (Chinese-American). The building of the transcontinental railroad was harsh, especially over the Sierra Nevada stretch of the Central Pacific Railroad. During the winter of 1866, the Chinese worked through 44 storms and were waist deep in snow. They worked in conditions so dark and foul that American workers could not endure them (Meltzer 55, 57). The Chinese played a role so powerful in making the railroad dream come true that, without them the railroad might never have become reality (Chinese-American). In the end about 1,200, or ten percent of the Chinese work force died and the white man eventually forgot all the sacrifices they had made

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(Meltzer 65). The issue regarding immigrant treatment lighted a wildfire amongst humanitarians and resulted in a lot of negative publicity for railroad companies. The new railroad companies exploited the various immigrant groups for their own profits, but in doing so they also destroyed the American dream of tens of thousands of hopeful immigrants. The railroad companies not only devastated the immigrants who worked on the railroads, but also the first people to populate North Americathe Native Americans. The Native American Indians, who were once a thriving pre-industrial civilization, were now reduced to only a fraction of their former glory. The greatest majority of Indians that were affected were the Plains Indians who strictly depended on the environment and resources provided by Mother Nature to survive. The Indians saw the railroads as bad medicine wagons that brought with them white settlers into their homelands. The Indians found that they could not coexist peacefully with an all-consuming capitalistic Iron Arrow which pierced through their nomadic way of life (Meltzer 66-67). To the Indians their greatest loss was the buffalo. Before the western frontier opened to American settlers there existed about 75 million buffalo on the plains, but by 1900 the number dropped to about 1,000 (Meltzer 69). The Plains Indians felt that their way of life, beliefs, and in turn their very existence was threatened by the railroads. As a result, Indian warriors made raids, derailed trains, tore up tracks, and anything else that would stop the invading Iron Beast. Among the various attacking tribes the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Crow were some of the more aggressive and violent (Streissguth 69-70). Much of the land on which the railroads were built was in fact stolen from the Indians. The lands were their sacred hunting grounds for thousands of years before American Independence was even

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declared. The railroads forever devastated the Native Americans and led to the eventual downfall of their once thriving civilization. The emerging transcontinental railroad shaped much of the lives of the American people during the Post Civil War era. Lincoln and Congress took the first steps toward building the railroad with the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. The government gave the railroad companies $16,000 for every mile of track they laid (Ambrose 143) and as a result the 960 miles of track in 1865 skyrocketed to over 90,000 miles in the next 50 years (Meltzer 42). The railroads made the nation much smaller for Americans by reducing the many months and thousands of dollars that were once necessary to travel across the nation (Ambrose 369). Standard time zones were officially started on November 18, 1883, in response to the various train accidents and schedule problems that were created by cities using astronomical time (History & info). Americans saw railroads as an essential factor for a new modern nation and felt a great surge of pride which steadily rose with the iron beast. Wherever the railroad went, old cities flourished and newer ones sprang into being out of nothingness. The railroads also created significant growth in various cities where railroads were centered such as Chicago and Illinois. Industry was no exception; factories were built along the railroads in lure of the easy transport and access to the rest of the nation. In 1866, two new cotton factories were founded on the Chattahoochee River, Georgia, near the railroad (The Week). The transcontinental railroad helped change the way Americans lived everyday and as a result the new America of modern times was in large part the creation of the railroads. The rise of the Iron Horse was in large part responsible for the tremendous changes in the American economy. By wars end, the railroad companies had already received more than

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100 million acres of free land from the government (Meltzer 41). Although a lot of the help given by the government was free, a substantial portion of it was given as loans on which interest and principal was collected. In the final settlement with the railroads in 1898 and 1899 the government collected $167,746,490 from an initial loan of $64,623,512. As reflected upon by Harvard Professor Hugo Meyer, the financial outcome for the government was no less exceptional than it was for the railroad companies themselves (Ambrose 377). Materials including steel, Iron, and timber were also in great demand. At just one snow base in the Sierra Nevada, the Central Pacific consumed more than 65 million feet of lumber and 900 tons of bolts and spikes (Meltzer 60). As a result of this demand, thousands of jobs were briskly created and occupied in various factories producing raw materials such as steel, coal, and timber. In addition, a single railroad company employed as many as 35,000 employees (Meltzer 71). With the advent of the railroad network many things suddenly became possible. A nationwide stock market finally emerged and a transcontinental economy based on agriculture, raw materials, consumer goods, and etc was introduced. (Ambrose 370). The railroads also helped open world-wide markets for farmers, businesses, and others alike. The railroads helped stimulate amazing growth, production, and wealth in the American economy by forging it anew and adding the decisive transcontinental factor. A world market for steel began to emerge alongside the transcontinental railroad. The new Bessemer steel process helped create a cheaper, faster method of creating steel than ever before. Quickly realizing the benefits of steel versus iron, railroad companies vigorously promoted and funded the steel industry. The railroad companies founded the earliest American steel industries, as well as consumed almost all of the new steel. Throughout the

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1880s and beyond, the mass production of American steel was largely dependent on the mass consumption of steel rails. The mass consumption of steel resulted in a sustained building of the railroads (Building Transcontinental). Having worked at railroad companies in the past, Andrew Carnegie knew very well that there was a growing demand for steel. As a result Carnegie founded an extensively integrated steel operation in the United States at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and helped America become the worlds largest steel producer. Carnegie and various other steel industrialists reworked the Bessemer steel process to better suit Americas demand for fast, flexible, and cheap steel rails, and lots of it at that. The new steel era helped create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, markets, coal mines, steel mills, and in turn a new American economy (Meltzer 71-72). In light of the influence of the railroads, the American steel industry was ultimately a product of the nations westward expansion and helped weld the lands together. As they did in the American steel industry, the railroads also played a prominent role in the development of the American meat packing industry. At the end of the Civil War millions of cattle roamed freely across the western frontier, virtually free for the picking (Andrews). The roaming cattle in tandem with the railroads created the American Long Drive. The long drive was the enlistment of hundreds of cowboys to transport great herds of cattle to railroad stations where they would be shipped to prime meat packing factories across the nation. During their long trek to the railroad stations, the tired and thirsty cowboys were treated to crude hotels, restaurants, and saloons which sprang up along the long drive (Matthews 21-22). Soon, the long drive was succeeded by large corporate owned farms and ranches. The corporate systems reduced costs created by the long drive, raised efficiency in factories,

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selectively breed only the best cattle, and etc. The perfection of the refrigerated railroad car in the 1870s helped Chicago become the American meat packing capital. Chicago meat packers could now transport unspoiled meat across the nation. Although home town butchers had the advantage of fresh, local meat, Chicago packers eventually won over their competition with low costs, mass production, and amazing efficiency (Andrews). The advent of the railroad and the refrigerated railroad car made it cheaper and possible to send perishable foods to nationwide markets. As a result, competition quickly rose for the privilege of becoming a regular train station, a decision which ultimately made or ruined entire cities and towns. The new American railroad network gave the Nation a jump start into the Modern Era. American perspectives significantly changed since the world had finally become a lot smaller and the nation at large had been truly unified and welded together. The railroads led to the rise of new industries such as the steel and meat packing industries. New markets and industries now operated on new national and global platforms. The transcontinental railroad lightened human toil, made men richer in both wealth and leisure, enlarged the area available for mans residence, and enabled him to do more in the same period of time. Unfortunately, in reaching this monumental position, American railroad companies exploited thousands of immigrants and devastated the Native American population. The American railroad network of the post Civil War helped revolutionize the nation and brought the nation one step close to the present Modern America.

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Works Cited Ambrose, Stephen E. Nothing Like It in the World The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. Print. Andrews, Thomas G. "Making Meat: Efficiency and Exploitation in Progressive Era Chicago | Teaching Strategy | Thomas G. Andrews | Vol 24 No 1 | January 2010 | OAH Magazine of History." The Organization of American Historians. Web. 03 Mar. 2010. <http://www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/v24n1/andrews.html>. "BUILDING TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROADS." University of Minnesota. Web. 04 Mar. 2010. <http://www.tc.umn.edu/~tmisa/NOS/1.5_railroads.html>. "CHINESE-AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION TO TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD." Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum - Transcontinental Railroad. Web. 23 Feb. 2010. <http://cprr.org/Museum/Chinese.html>. "History & Info - Standard Time Began with the Railroads." WebExhibits. Web. 22 Feb. 2010. <http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/d.html>. Matthews, Leonard. Railroaders. Vero Beach, Fla: Rourke Publications, 1989. Print. Meltzer, Milton. Hear That Train Whistle Blow! How the Railroad Changed the World (Landmark Books). New York: Random House for Young Readers, 2004. Print. Streissguth, Thomas. The Transcontinental Railroad (Building History Series). New York: Lucent, 1999. Print. "The Week." Nation 3.59 (1866): 121. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCO. Web. 12 Mar. 2010.