First of all, we should note that the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, so saying that it was in the late 19th century might be a bit of a stretch. That said, let us look at three important ways in which it was a defining moment.
- It marked the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars. Once the railroads had penetrated the entire continent, the Indians’ days as a free people were numbered. Railroads allowed too many whites to get to too many places for the Indians to keep their nomadic ways going. The end of the Indian Wars marked the end of an era in US history.
- It allowed the US to become much more industrialized. The railroad was the catalyst for massive industrialization in the US economy.
- It made the US a truly continental country. This was the beginning of the West as a major part of the country. It began a process that has culminated in, for example, the great importance of California in the nation’s economy.