How did the railroad change the trans-Mississippi West from 1860 to 1900?

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From 1860 through 1900, the railroad changed the trans-Mississippi West through affecting commercial and social development, including urbanization. Another significant dimension was the military applications during the Civil War. The expansion of white settlement corresponded to the removal of indigenous people from their traditional lands, especially after the Homestead Act went into effect in 1862. Supplies and materials that supported the growth of large urban centers on or west of the Mississippi River were increasingly transported by rail, which drastically reduced the required time. In addition, the construction of trains and rail lines increased the demand for raw materials, factories, and labor.

During the Civil War, Union troops and materiel were often moved by rail, a process in which Andrew Carnegie was strategically involved. This use of the rails demonstrated their essential role in peacetime and dramatically boosted the steel industry.

While the rail lines had primarily moved westward from the industrialized East, the growth of the West, associated with agriculture and mining as well as commerce, stimulated the building of railroads from the Pacific Coast inland. Industrialist Leland Stanford of California became president of the Central Pacific Railroad and later of the Southern Pacific as well. He pressed for eastward expansion that would connect with the Union Pacific line—so much so that when the lines met in Utah in 1869, he personally drove in the golden spike that joined them.

Railroad construction also helped shape Western demography through the need to employ a large labor force. The recruitment of Chinese laborers thus contributed to trans-Pacific population flows and greatly expanded the US Chinese population. Under the strenuous working conditions, Native Americans were also pressed into service.

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