The first railroads in America were horse drawn. However, with the development of the steam engine, they quickly grew. The era of railroad building began in 1830. Over 1200 miles of railroad track was laid between 1832 and 1837. Railroads had a large and varied impact on the development of the United States. Following is a look at the effect that railroads had on the development of the United States.
Bound Counties Together and Allowed for Distant Travel
Railroads created a more interconnected society. Counties were able to work together easier due to the decreased travel time. With the use of the steam engine, people were able to travel to distant locations much easier than if they were using only horsepowered transportation. In 1869 when the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, the nation was joined with 1776 miles of track. The frontier could be extended with a greater movement of population. The railroad also allowed people to change their place of living with greater ease than ever before.
Outlet for Products
The advent of a rail network expanded the available markets for goods. An item for sale in New York could now make it out west in a much faster. The sellers found new markets in which to sell their goods and individuals who lived on the frontier were able to obtain goods that were previously unavailable or extremely hard to get.
The railroad system allowed for new settlements to thrive along the rail networks. For example, Davis, California started around a Southern Pacific Railroad depot in 1868. The end destination remained a focal point of settlement. Towns along the route also thrived. They became layover points and new markets for goods.
Not only did the railways provide greater opportunity through extending markets, they also stimulated more people to start businesses and thereby enter the markets. An extended marketplace provided a greater number of individuals the opportunity to produce and sell goods. Whereas an item might not have had enough demand in a local town to warrant production, the railroads allowed for the shipment of goods to a greater area.
Source: Effect of Railroads on the United States