Important Facts

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1. Why was the transcontinental railroad so important to build?

During the 1800’s, many people traveled by horse and buggy making travel long, hard and often dangerous.  There were many railroads during this time, however there was not a railway that connected the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.  Once the railroad was built, travel became quicker and less dangerous.  Travel that might take a family six months would now take them six days.  The transcontinental railroad would unite the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.   

2. How did the idea for the transcontinental railroad surface?  

The building of the transcontinental railroad was one of the greatest transportation events in history.   The idea for building the railroad had been thought of long before it was built.  Proposals for the railroad had been given to congress all throughout the 1830’s and 40’s.  Theodore Judah laid out a plan and surveyed land long before congress paid for land to be surveyed and begged congress to start the building of the railroad.  In 1853 congress enabled Jefferson Davis to survey land for a railroad route that would be suitable to build on and expended $150,000 for the land to be surveyed. 

3. When did the building of the railroad start?

Track for the railroad started to be laid in 1863 in Omaha.  The railroad was off to a slow start because of a lack of money and the Civil War was in progress.  The building of the railroad did not start to flourish until 1866.  Congress could not decide on the route of the railroad because of slavery.  Northerners wanted a different route than the southerners because of slavery.  The west was new to the United States and slavery was not in the west.  Congress could not decide if slavery should be allowed in the new states.

4. Who are the “big four” and what role did they play in the building of the transcontinental railroad?

The “big four” are Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins.  Leland Stanford has been given a lot of credit for starting to build the railroad.  A corporation named the Central Pacific Railroad Co., became organized by Theodore Judah with Leland Stanford as president, C.P. Huntington as vice-president, and Mark Hopkins as treasurer and Charles Crocker was a leader in the working process.

5. Who were the majority of the railroad workers?

Work on the railroad was progressing until silver was discovered in Nevada in 1865.  A lot of the white workers left the railroad to search for silver.  In 1865 Charles Crocker set out to find a new work force.  Charles Crocker started to hire Chinese immigrants to work for the railroad.  By May 10, 1869 over 11,000 railroad workers were Chinese.

6. What kind of conditions and pay did the workers endure?

When the Chinese started working on the railroad they faced a lot of discrimination.  The Chinese could not become citizens, vote, own property, testify in court and were forced to live in certain parts of town.  Most whites felt as though the Chinese were stealing the jobs away from them.  The Chinese endured long hours, usually 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Winters in the mountains were horrible with snowdrifts, avalanches and cold weather.  Working in the deserts became horrible as well with hot weather and no shade.  Working in the mountains became dangerous as many of the men had to hang from baskets to blast away parts of the mountain so they were able to lay track.  Blasting away parts of the mountain became dangerous, however no lives were lost.  Most of the men started to bleed in their lungs from alkali. White men who worked on the railroad were paid $35.00 a month plus room and board and the Chinese were paid $25.00 a month, but paid for their own supplies.  The Chinese worked hard and stayed dedicated which played a significant role in the building of the transcontinental railroad.

7. What is the most significant landmark of the transcontinental railroad?

Promontory Point, Utah would be considered the most important landmark in the building of the railroad.  On May 10, 1869, Promontory Point, Utah was where the two railroads came together to complete the railroad.  At this time, the last tie was laid and hammered together with a bronze and gold spike.  Promontory Point signifies the completion of one of the most historical events in the United States. 

8. How much did it cost to build the railroad?

The transcontinental railroad cost $50,000,000 to build.  The budget and outline of all of the costs were laid out by Theodore Judah before work began in 1863.

9. How long is the transcontinental railroad and where does it start and end?

The transcontinental railroad is 3,500 miles long and 2,000 of those miles were added when it work started in 1863. Congress decided that the railroad would be built using the northern route instead of the southern route.  The railroad extends from California, through the Sierras and the Missouri River to Chicago.

10. When did travel on the new railroad begin?

Travel on the new railroad began five days after it’s completion.  There were two separate fares, one for immigrants and one for first class.  The first route taken was from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California.

11. What has happened to the transcontinental railroad?

Throughout the years most of the railroad ties were dug up and used for supplies.  The railroad became less popular as the years went by because of highways, automobiles and air transportation.