Railroads and Conflict in the West

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 How did railroads help the United States grow? 

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Railroads helped connect the West to the East. It made travel to the West easier for emigrants whose only options before were wagon trails. Railroads often owned the right-of-way along the tracks, thus facilitating the sale of land to potential homeowners. Railroads also made it easier to get mail and...

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Railroads helped connect the West to the East. It made travel to the West easier for emigrants whose only options before were wagon trails. Railroads often owned the right-of-way along the tracks, thus facilitating the sale of land to potential homeowners. Railroads also made it easier to get mail and consumer goods to people who had moved West. This made it easier for them to keep in touch with relatives in the East as well as purchase goods through catalogs that they could not otherwise purchase at the local general store.

Railroads also connected the West to the East economically. Railroads allowed the mineral wealth of the West to go East where it was needed the most. The gold strike at Sutter's Mill spurred the first interest in creating a transcontinental railroad for the United States. After the Civil War, railroads helped to facilitate the cattle kingdoms of the West since cattle brought higher prices in the East than they did in Texas. Refrigerated rail cars also made it possible for people in the East to enjoy fresh Texas beef.

Railroads were also important to many homesteaders and farming corporations as they allowed grains from the Midwest to reach ports and markets where they could be sold around the world. Without the railroads, most of the wealth from the West would remain untapped since there are few rivers in the region where one can send boats to reach more populous markets.

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The railroads were integral to the growth of the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century in several ways. First of all, they allowed people to more easily, safely, and affordably travel to and settle the western part of the country. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, there were only two rather unattractive ways to cross the country. People either crossed overland by stagecoach or wagon train, which was long and dangerous, or they went by sea with a transfer in Central America, which was very expensive. The expansion of the railroads changed that. It almost immediately brought in large numbers of settlers from the east. Soon, there was a large enough population in certain areas to create new states, such as Colorado, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

The railroad helped economically as well. It meant that resources from distant places could be moved to production centers in cities. Iron ore from the Rocky Mountains was transported east to steel mills in cities like Pittsburg and Chicago. Crops from California could reach markets in the Midwest and East before they had time to spoil. As raw materials and consumer goods moved quickly and inexpensively around the country, the growth in consumerism grew greatly, fueling the growth of the American economy.

In short, the railroads facilitated the fast and cheap movement of people, products, and ideas around a large and growing country. Without the railroads, obstacles such as mountains and deserts isolated large parts of the country from development and growth. With the railroad, the country became more connected than ever before.

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Rail transport opened up the region to commerce and enhanced human movement. The trains provided a more secure and efficient means of transport of goods and people over long distances. The alternative means of transport were treacherous, and it took longer to reach the destination. For instance, while it took $1000 and six months to travel between New York and California before the railroad, it took one week and $150 to cover the same journey after completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Enhanced transport increased growth by providing better access to markets. Additionally, railway transport reduced the price of the distribution of finished goods. Better distribution increased the need for faster production, leading to the growth and expansion of industries. The movement led to a faster exchange of information and ideas, which had the effect of achieving innovation in different social processes, including commerce. New settlements were also created along the railway networks and thrived on trade.

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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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