The completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 had profound effects on the United States. The railroad shortened travel time between the East and West coasts from six months to one week and brought the cost down by as much as 90%. It turned what had been a dangerous journey into a relatively safe and easy one. As a result, markets in the United States could be greatly expanded, and prices for consumer products dropped. Raw materials could be transported to factories more quickly and cheaply, and finished products could reach consumers more efficiently than ever before. This caused a boom in manufacturing and in the distribution of goods around the country. By the end of the 1870s, over $50 million worth of goods were being shipped across the continent every year. More cities and towns sprang up along the railroad, leading to even further settlement of the interior of the country. This led to increased manufacturing and farming in these regions. Also, because more goods from the east were able to reach ports on the West coast, trade with Asia, particularly China, grew.
Socially and culturally, the First Transcontinental Railroad had a huge impact. The towns and settlements built along the railroad developed their own cultures. As more families moved in, sustainable societies began to replace the migrant worker settlements that had previously existed in these places. The railroad also brought more white settlers into conflict with the Plains Indians. Whole tribes were persecuted and displaced to make way for white settlements. In a sense, the railroad brought about an end to the migratory lifestyles of many tribes.
The transcontinental railroad changed the United States in many ways. The railroad itself provided jobs in terms of shipping, track maintenance, and steel. The railroad also provided a more efficient way for emigrants to move west—the Oregon and California Trails would soon be seldom used. Towns sprang up along the railroad, thus creating places for people to settle. Branch lines soon attached to the railroad, providing easy ways to move goods back east where the most lucrative markets existed. With the invention of refrigeration cars, it would soon be possible for someone in New York to enjoy beef from Texas and fruit from California. None of this would be possible without the transcontinental railroad.
Socially, the railroad meant the beginning of the end of the buffalo and the Plains Indian culture. Professional buffalo hunters killed thousands of buffalo each year to feed the rail workers. Buffalo tongue became a desirable delicacy in the finest Eastern restaurants, and buffalo robes and leather found their way into department stores and manufacturing, respectively. Many immigrants took advantage of the cheap land offered by the railroads since they owned the right-of-way and could sell it as they saw fit. Many immigrants from Eastern Europe came to the Great Plains and turned it into one of the greatest wheat-producing regions in the world. More people were able to move west. This meant families and the beginning of the end of the male-dominated "Wild West."
There were economic and social changes brought about by the development of the transcontinental railroad. The transcontinental railroad helped the economy of the United States grow. As people moved to the west, businesses also expanded westward to meet the growing demands of the increasing population. This business expansion created more jobs, and that encouraged further development of the west. Miners, farmers, and cattle ranchers were some of the people who moved westward. Eventually, as more and more people moved to the west, the railroads began to expand in a northern and southern direction. This created even more jobs and further increased the growth of the west economically. This westward movement had some social impacts also. Immigrants from China and Europe were brought to the United States to work on the transcontinental railroad. Some of these immigrants faced discrimination. This was especially true of the Chinese whom people felt were taking jobs away from Americans. This in part led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Native Americans were also harmed by the westward expansion. Native Americans were placed on reservations. The movement of people to the west disrupted their entire way of life. The way of life of the Native Americans was significantly altered as the Americans who move westward killed the buffalo. We also saw the population of the west begin to grow because of the transcontinental railroad. This eventually led to more political power for the west as new states entered the country. The transcontinental railroad had a significant impact on the United States economically and socially.