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The Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 licensed the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies to build a transcontinental railroad that would connect the eastern and the western parts of the United States. So, in a time span of 7 years, these two companies would race against each other – one starting from Sacramento, California and the other starting from Omaha, Nebraska – to build that said railroad despite great risks involved. On May 10, 1869, these two companies would meet at Promontory, Utah.
Keep reading for the comprehensive on site fact file detailing the history of the First transcontinental railroad or download our entire worksheet bundle to teach in the home or classroom environment.
- President Abraham Lincoln was the one who signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 though no end point was determined at that time.
- Before the transcontinental railroad was built, land travel from the west coast to the east coast of the country was very risky and difficult that travelers had to choose other alternatives. The problem was, these alternatives were risky, too. Aside from land travel, another course was to go through a six-month sea voyage around Cape Horn which was at the tip of South America. Still, the other alternative included sea travel, too, at the risk of contracting yellow fever as the traveler cross the Isthmus of Panama and go by ship to San Francisco.
- Extensive US land grants were provided to the companies to allow them to build the railroad over public lands.
- Before the transcontinental railroad, traveling from coast to coast within United States territory cost about $1,000. However, after the transcontinental railroad was completed and used, travel expenses went down to an amazingly cheap $150.
- Aside from allowing travelers to travel from the east coast to the west with ease, the transcontinental railroad also allowed goods to get from place to place easily and cheaply allowing business and commerce across the country to improve.
- The transcontinental railroad was also known in these other names: Pacific Railroad and the Overland Route.
- The Congress had to choose between two main routes for the railroad. The first one, the Southern Route, ran across Texas, New Mexico to Los Angeles. The second one, the Central Route, ran from Omaha, Nebraska then to Sacramento, California.
- The route they chose was the Central Route which was very similar to the Oregon Trail.
- The Transcontinental Railroad was built to connect the east to California which was, at that time, very progressive due to its large gold deposits.
- The railroad line was quite important to then President Abraham Lincoln. But it was only completed four years after his death.
- The railroad replaced the Pony Express, wagon trails and stagecoaches, modes of transportations that were slower and more prone to highway robberies.
- Because of the railroad, what was a six-month journey from coast to coast was cut down to only one week.
- There was a third company involved in the building of the transcontinental railroad — the Western Pacific Railroad Company.
- Companies involved in the building of the railroad reported difficulties and risks as they were constructing it.
- The Union Pacific workers’ problem was the Native American tribes – particularly Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes – who attacked them at every turn resulting gruesome deaths. These tribes resented how the railroad and the “iron horse” ran through their claimed lands and changing the landscape.
- The Central Pacific Railroad Company faced the dilemma of not having workers dedicated enough to go through the work especially blasting through the Sierra Nevadas. At first, the company hired Irish immigrants but they were quick to abandon their jobs easily lured to the silver mines of Nevada. In the end, they opted to hire Chinese laborers who, despite their slight builds, were able to accomplish great things.
- Shortly after, the Chinese laborers were harassed by the former workers of the railroad for taking over their jobs.
- Due to race issues, Chinese laborers earned a little less compared to their white counterparts. But their $20 savings at the end of the month was already a fortune to them as most came from extreme poverty in China and had come to the country to escape it.
- Aside from Irish immigrants and Chinese laborers, Mormon workers were also hired for the construction of the railroad particularly on the part in Utah.
- The public’s opinion about the railroad was mixed. Some accepted the change while many others violently opposed it. They destroyed building equipment and even went as far as attacking workers’ camps at night to burn down the workers’ tents and steal the materials for building the railroad.
- Then newly elected President Ulysses Grant refused to release more financial aid to the companies that built the railroad as there were bickering and fight among them. They did work out their differences in the end so, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed and eventually opened for public use.
- The completed railroad ran for about 1,912 miles [3,077 kilometers]. Its construction started in 1863 and ended in 1869.
- The railroad officially opened on May 10, 1869. Industrialist Leland Stanford ceremoniously hammered the last golden spike [referred to as the Golden Spike] into the railroad in Promontory Summit.
Key Individuals of the Transcontinental Railroad
Asa Whitney – a prominent figure and strong proponent of the Central Route Railroad. Asa traveled widely and even went on to print pamphlets at his own expense just so he could convince the government to support his idea of a railroad system that would connect the country from coast to coast.
Theodore Judah – he was the architect of the Transcontinental railroad and Central Pacific’s first chief engineer.
Leland Stanford, Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker – dubbed the Big Four, these four Northern California businessmen formed the core of the Central Pacific Railroad. Leland was the one who drove the last golden spike into the railroad formally opening it for public use. He also was the one who founded Stanford University.
Dr. Thomas C. Durant – vice-president of the Union Pacific Railroad. The financial arrangements in his company were clearer and cleaner compared to Stanford’s Central Pacific which was mired with controversies.
Samuel C. Curtis – The Iowan representative whose bill pushed for the making of the Transcontinental Railroad.
President Abraham Lincoln – signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. The railroad system was important to Lincoln. However, he never saw it completed having died four years prior to its completion.
First Transcontinental Railroad Worksheets
This bundle contains 11 ready-to-use First Transcontinental Railroad Worksheets that are perfect for students who want to learn more about The First Transcontinental Railroad which was commissioned due to the The Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 which licensed the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies to build a transcontinental railroad that would connect the eastern and the western parts of the United States. So, in a time span of 7 years, these two companies would race against each other – one starting from Sacramento, California and the other starting from Omaha, Nebraska – to build that said railroad despite great risks involved.
Download includes the following worksheets:
- First Transcontinental Railroad Facts
- Famous People
- Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant
- Transcontinental Mapping
- Let’s Take a Ride
- Railroad Workers
- Railway Facts
- East and West
- Inventions Word Search
- Building the Railroad
- Appreciating Innovations
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Link will appear as First Transcontinental Railroad Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, May 11, 2017
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