The Transcontinental Railroad


U.S. History Gilded Age The Transcontinental Railroad
Students learn about the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and analyze the effect it had on the American West and the entire country’s economy. Then they describe some of the negative results of the railway system construction in the United States.

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Overview

In this experience, students learn about the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and analyze the effect it had on the American West and the entire country’s economy. Then they describe some of the negative results of the railway system construction in the United States.

Objectives:

  • Explain how the Transcontinental Railroad helped the West develop.
  • Analyze how railroads encouraged economic growth.
  • Describe the negative side effects of the railroads.


Before the railroad connected America’s east and west coasts, it took travelers months to cross the country 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 the Transcontinental Railroad helped the West develop.
  • Analyze how railroads encouraged economic growth.
  • Describe the negative side effects of the railroads.




Celebration of Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad


The Union Pacific Railway started building a rail line from Nebraska westward, while the Central Pacific Railway was building tracks from California eastward. The two lines met in May of 1869 in Promontory Summit, Utah. The Transcontinental Railroad was complete from coast to coast! The entire country celebrated this accomplishment. As a result, life began to change quickly for all Americans.


Create a newspaper headline announcing the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.


Ask for volunteers to explain their news headlines.

Then ask students to predict how the railroad impacted life in the United States. They may suggest that people were now able to travel distances more easily, which encouraged more people to move westward. Additionally, it was easier to move supplies, raw materials, and finished goods across the United States. The railroads also made communication easier, as mail and packages could be shipped via railroad.

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


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