Railroads and Economic Development


US History Reconstruction Era and the Western Frontier Railroads and Economic Development
Students learn about the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the effect it had on the American West and the entire country's economy. Students also learn about some of the negative results of the building of the railway system in the western United States.

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Overview

In this experience, students learn about the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the effect it had on the American West and the entire country’s economy. Students also learn about some of the negative results of the building of the railway system in the western United States.

Objectives:

  • Explain how railroads helped the West develop.
  • Analyze how railroad services became more efficient over time.
  • Describe how railroads encouraged economic growth.


Before the railroad connected America’s east and west coast, it took travelers months to travel west along the wagon trails. Once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, the travel time was reduced to one week. The Transcontinental Railroad connection and other rail lines that would follow over the next half century transformed the western United States and the economy of the entire country.

Objectives:

  • Explain how railroads helped the West develop.
  • Analyze how railroad services became more efficient over time.
  • Describe how railroads encouraged economic growth.




Celebration of Completion of the First Transcontinental Railway


The Union Pacific Railway and the Central Pacific Railway met in May of 1869 in Promontory Summit, Utah. The entire country celebrated this accomplishment. As a result, life began to change quickly for all Americans.


Think about some of the ways that life may have changed as a result of the railroad. How do you think the railroad impacted the development of the United States?

Post your answer

Students’ responses will vary but may include the fact that people were now able to travel more easily from point to point which encouraged more people to move westward. Additionally, it was easier to move supplies, raw materials, and finished goods across the United States.

Ask students if they have ever ridden the train. Have students describe their experiences to the class.


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