United States

Railroads and America

Many people don’t think twice about the old broken down tracks on the side of the road while driving to work, but they should. The railroad changed America because it provided fast transportation for people and goods. It gave America a great economic boom and allowed transportation of goods such as wheat and even transported people, which was never seen before.

Before the early 1800s, the idea of anything other than a horse for transportation was unheard of. On February 28, 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad became the first U.S. railway chartered for commercial transport of passengers and freight. During this time, the birth of the modern world boomed. Along with the outburst of the railroad, things like motion picture film and the light bulb. Railroads marked the beginning of a new age of transportation for America. People were no longer restricted by nature and they would travel as far as they liked.

During the early 1800s, railroads took off when people such as Jay Gould started funding and managing areas such as the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railway. Gould was seen as a “Robber Baron” due to manipulating prices of stocks and issuing over 100,000 shares of stocks for the Erie Railroads. The railroad may not be a very prominent way of transportation in the United States today, but in the 1800-1900’s it was one of the most popular ways to transport goods and people. The system of railroads changed many people across the world’s way of life.

America’s exchange system along with how we transport ourselves and products drastically changed when the railroad came into popularity. On February 28, 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad became the first U.S. railway chartered for commercial transport of passengers and freight. This was a very new and different way of transportation so there were people who doubted that a steam engine could work along steep, winding grades. The Tom Thumb design, made by a man named Peter Cooper convinced all people nation wide how much of a life changer the railroads were.

Investors hoped a railroad would allow Baltimore, the second largest U.S. city at the time, to successfully compete with New York for western trade.The first railroad track in the United States was only 13 miles long, but it caused a lot of excitement when it opened in 1830.

The 1850s were a time of westward expansion for the United States. The California Gold Rush and Nevada Silver Rush pushed U.S. Americans further and further west with aspirations of becoming rich.

By 1840, railroad track in the United States had reached almost three thousand miles; by 1850, more than nine thousand miles; by 1860 over thirty thousand miles. During these decades, the technology associated with the steam locomotive continued to improve, and innovations were made in the design of the tracks themselves. In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Bill which later became the birth of the Transcontinental Railroad, which united the West United States to the East. Two main companies ran this super railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad Company built on the west coast, starting in the very familiar Sacramento, while the Union Pacific Railroad started at the Missouri River. The two tracks were built in the direction of one another until they met in the middle, creating what we know as the Transcontinental Railroad.  It was 1,776 miles long and served for the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States to be connected by rail for the first time in history. Four men named Leland Stanford, Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker were the backers of the transcontinental railroad.  Within ten years of the transcontinental railroad’s completion, it was already shipping $50 million worth of freight from coast to coast every year. An economic uprise hit and allowed more products to be made quicker. The Transcontinental Railroad was finished and opened for traffic on May 10, 1869. The transcontinental transportation network revolutionized the American economy because the transport of goods was made much faster, cheaper and more flexible. With this new express service, a businessman could leave New York City on Monday morning, spend 83 hours in relaxing comfort, and arrive refreshed and ready for work in San Francisco by Thursday evening. Railroads allowed the vast nation to be shrunken down and more manageable to travel. The railroad changed many people’s lives in various ways. Most people in this time period only had traveled within 50 miles of where they grew up. Railroads gave a sufficient way to transport people to commuting jobs. The invention of railroads also led to the creation of cars, so our nation would not be the same without the stepping stone and evolution of transportation the railroads provided.

The railroads played a vital role in the American Civil War. They allowed the North and South to move men and equipment vast distances to further their own war aims. The transportation network of the North allowed them to move men and equipment longer distances and with greater speeds. This provided them with a significant advantage in war and in everyday life.

Without the railroads, America would not be the country it is today. The railroad was an innovative way to transport goods, as well as people. The time period we know as the “Golden Age” took place during the 1880s and early 1900s until more efficient ways of transportation were brought into the world. The automobile quickly took over the railroad industry, bringing the monopoly to an end. In addition, government regulation beginning in the early 20th century eventually made it impossible for railroads to be so prominently used.  Unable to set their own freight rates, abandon unprofitable routes, or rid themselves of money-losing passenger trains many were on the brink of collapse by the 1970s. This was very surprising to people as well as the business owners of railroad companies.  Following the reduction of regulations in 1980, the industry made a comeback and today is witnessing a comeback. Railroads are still used across the nation for the transportation of goods and people.

Article by Hannah Dardano and Joel Hamersley

Works Cited

“Big Four (Central Pacific Railroad).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Four_(Central_Pacific_Railroad).

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Jay Gould.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 16 Sep. 2016, www.britannica.com/biography/Jay-Gould.

First U.S. Railway Chartered to Transport Freight and Passengers, www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/nation/jb_nation_train_1.html.

History.com Staff. “Transcontinental Railroad.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad.

“How the Transcontinental Railroad Changed America.” GTG Technology Group, 4 Nov. 2016, gtgtechnologygroup.com/transcontinental-railroad/.

“Jay Gould Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, www.notablebiographies.com/Gi-He/Gould-Jay.html.

“Jay Gould.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/people/jay-gould-9316806.

“Railroad History, An Overview Of The Past.” American-Rails.com, www.american-rails.com/railroad-history.html.



  1. I definitely agree that when railroads were first used in America, they impacted the country in a positive way. Because of how efficient they made transportation, the economy shot up and they further advanced the Market Revolution. But in the future, this form of transportation would prove to have negative effects on the environment. Railroads along with factories, steam boats, etc., let out harmful fuels that were unknown during that time, but as we have learned now, it might have not been as beneficial as they thought. Their lack of concern for the environment during that time period is definitely affecting us today, which if anything, should be a good reminder to tread carefully with industrialization and its consequences.

  2. The fact that railroads launched forward the Industrial Revolution is hardly disputable. I agree that without railroads the Civil War would’ve lasted longer, the westward expansion would’ve been incredibly slower, and goods would’ve never traveled so far. The only thing that I would add to the article is how railroads effected the world as a whole and wouldn’t happen without Britain.