How did the Western frontier help build a national economy? (Key things to include in answer: railroads, telegraph lines, extractive lines, Homestead Act, and cowboys.)
Without the railroads, the West would have been largely underdeveloped. There were plans to build a transcontinental railroad before the Civil War, but deciding on its endpoints was one of the many things that Congress could not agree on in the buildup to the war. During the war, plans were created to have a northerly route for the railroad. The transcontinental railroad, which was famously completed by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, was the first of many efforts to connect the nation by rail. These railroads allowed raw materials to move East where a rapidly growing American population was waiting for them. The railroads opened up new mining claims in Arizona and Colorado, and big businesses soon replaced the miners who worked individual claims. These businesses worked extractive lines, meaning they got the most valuable parts of a large stake and then used laborers to get the metal out of the ground. These miners satisfied the nation's need for valuable metals during this time of rapid growth. Miners would soon clash with management in the West and would create one of the most militant labor unions of its time, the Industrial Workers of the World. The cowboy movement was assisted by railroads because railheads in Dodge City and Topeka were necessary to get the cheap cattle in Texas to those demanding hamburgers in the East. This movement ended with the development of barbed wire, as settlers in Texas soon sought to control the water sources. The cheap cattle and nearly limitless grass provided easy money for cattle barons who had lots of capital, but there was no substitute for water. The Homestead Act was assisted by the railroad in that railroads could advertise cheap land, and the federal government offered 160 acres for free to anyone who would live on it and make improvements. This allowed for many Europeans, especially those from Germany and Eastern Europe, to come to Kansas and Nebraska and become wheat farmers. Without the railroad, they could not get the grain to market. These people helped make America one of the leading wheat exporters before 1914. Finally, the telegraph allowed for instantaneous communication. It was a necessary tool for both armies during the Civil War; after the war, many sought to use it for commercial gain. It was now possible for general stores to place orders and have the product sent by rail. People could shop in a Sears catalog and get consumer goods wherever they could get mail service—all thanks to the telegraph. The telegraph also allowed for easier communication in the wars with the Indians that took place in the West after the Civil War. Without the telegraph, the wars might have lasted even longer and cost the government more money. Without the railroad and the telegraph, the nation would not have been economically integrated.