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Railroads helped the United States grow in three important ways. First, they made settlement of the West possible after the Civil War by connecting farmers (and miners, ranchers, loggers, and others) to markets. These people and companies could both ship their produce to markets as well as ship in the machinery and supplies that they needed. Second, railroads helped to integrate different regions of the country economically. This was really happening before the Civil War, but it facilitated the rapid growth of industries by cutting shipping times and expenses and allowing for rapid communication (telegraph wires were usually built alongside railroad tracks). Finally, railroads themselves promoted industrial growth by creating a massive demand for steel, coal, copper, all of which were central to the rise of the United States as an industrial power in the late nineteenth century. Railroads were probably the single most important aspect of the modernizing economy in the nineteenth century, and though railroad companies were responsible for corruption and various abuses, they were indisputably central to American growth.
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