please respond to one of the following questions from Chapters 15 & 16:

1. The late nineteenth century was a turning point for Native Americans as they adjusted to westward expansion, industrialization, and technological developments:

i. What forms did their adjustments take?

2. Boosters, artists, and writers created mythical images about the U.S. West:

i. What purposes did such images serve?

3. Regarding the influx of new migrants and the transformation cities:

i. What types of infrastructure did cities have to create to accommodate them?

ii. How did living in urban areas reshape people’s social lives?

4. Considering that creating a strong union movement in the United States so difficult:

i. What challenges did they face?

ii. What benefits were accrued?

Your response should be coherent, informative, and analytical and must provide evidence from your textbook. I expect you to write a minimum of 2 paragraphs that are 4-5 complete sentences each. Short sentences and short paragraphs will lose points.

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15-1Ties of Commerce

John Gast completed American Progress in 1872. Notice the city on the right in the sunshine and the rugged mountains and darkness on the left. Find the horsemen, farmers, fleeing bison and Indians, and the train puffing black smoke. The crowned and classically garbed figure carries a book and trails a telegraph wire behind her as she floats, beneficently, over the landscape.


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American Progress, 1872 (oil on canvas), Gast, John (b.1842-d.?)/Private Collection/Photo © Christie’s Images/The Bridgeman Art Library

What do you think the floating female figure represents? How does Gast use light and imagery to tell a story about progress?

The economic development of the West intensified with the growth of the railroads, which were built across the trans-Mississippi frontier in advance of most commerce and white settlement. Americans’ desire for commercial ties linking the nation with western ports for trade with Japan and China was the driving force behind railroad development. Transcontinental railroad projects were immense and expensive undertakings made possible only by the federal government, whose economic and political power surpassed that of the largest private corporations. The federal government also sponsored the establishment of state universities specializing in agriculture and engineering. These produced the managers and engineers who planned the railroad routes and directed these projects. But the work of carving rail lines into the landscape was accomplished by the labor of millions of men, often immigrants willing to take grueling and dangerous jobs.

As you read, consider ways in which the transcontinental railroad knit the nation together. What problems did railroad development cause?

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15-1aThe Transcontinental Railroad

The transcontinental railroad draws the nation together through commerce.

Building a transcontinental railroad was a dream of business and political leaders before the Civil War. After the war, underwritten by the federal government, it became a reality. The Pacific Railroad Acts (1862, 1864) financed the project through  land grants  from the public domain amounting to 174 million acres, larger than the size of Texas (see Map 15.1). The Union Pacific built west from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific built east from Sacramento, California. Each received ten sections (sixty-four hundred acres) along the right of way for each mile of track laid. That incentive later increased to twenty, and then forty, sections per mile. The railroads sold these lands to settlers and speculators who built towns and created business that required rail traffic for the new lines.

Map 15.1Federal Land Grants Given to Railroads

Building railroads after the Civil War would not have been possible without immense federal subsidies of land. Taken from Native Americans, who were increasingly confined to reservations, these lands were turned over to railway companies that sold them to raise revenue. While homesteaders could get “free” land, many who could afford it chose to pay a premium price to have easy access to the railroad, which opened a global market to them.


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Because of the magnitude of the transcontinental line, the federal government also financed the railroad by selling bonds that promised a return of 6 percent to the investors. Ultimately, the government advanced about $77 million in bonds to the railroad companies, which they were supposed to repay over the next thirty years, but in fact they repaid only a fraction of what was owed. The government also covered about $43 million in deferred interest payments to the railroads’ bondholders. The magnitude of this infrastructure project succeeded only because of these massive government subsidies to private corporations.

The Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) started the first transcontinental line in Sacramento, California, and began laying track east across and through the Sierra Nevada mountains and out onto the high plateaus of the interior West. A group of powerful tycoons financially underwrote the railroads. Known as the  Big Four , Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker bought and sold the government-backed bonds to finance the railroad, amassing a huge profit. With the exception of timber, all of the materials—rails, equipment, and engines—had to be shipped from the East Coast to the West via the Isthmus of Panama or through Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America. The cost was enormous in terms of material, labor, and time.

From Omaha, Nebraska, the Union Pacific had the easier task, pushing westward across the plains. As the two lines neared each other, the nation waited in anticipation, as the workers engaged in a gripping competition. The Union Pacific laid the most track overall, but the CPRR held the record for most track laid in a single day—ten miles. On May 10, 1869, the two companies met at  Promontory Summit  in Utah, and when the hammer hit the last spike at 12:32 P.M., joining the two railroads, a telegraph sent to Washington, D.C., declared “Done.” People across the nation celebrated as one newspaper columnist wrote that this was the marriage of “the gorgeous east and the imperial west of America, with the indissoluble seal of inter-oceanic commerce.” The transcontinental railroad and the telegraph wire strung alongside it were the physical expression of the U.S. fascination with its Manifest Destiny (the belief that the U.S. was ordained to rule over North America), and its more benevolent version of American Progress as embodied in Gast’s painting.

Although the nation’s rail network had expanded rapidly, very little of it was standardized or compatible. Each line had been developed as a private enterprise without much government regulation, and each company used different railcars and coupling systems to link its railcars. Each rail line also used its own gauge (distance between the rails), and by the 1870s, more than two dozen gauges existed. Someone taking the train from New York to Chicago would have had to change trains and transportation companies at least three times. Freight had to be transferred by hand from one railway line’s railcars to those of the next company as it moved through the system, driving up shipping costs. The Pacific Railway Acts codified a standard gauge for the entire transcontinental railroad to avoid these problems. This type of standardization spread throughout the railroad industry after the Civil War to provide efficiency and convenience amid fierce competition and cutthroat practices among rival companies.

Until 1883, when the railroads adopted the policy of  standard time , people in North America operated on “local time” or simply had an approximate sense of what time it was. With the advent of railroads and the need to coordinate transfers and rail use precisely, this practice had to change. Since the eighteenth century, mariners had used Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), based on the established longitude of zero degrees at Greenwich, England, to help navigate the seas. In 1847, British railroads had adopted GMT, which became known as railway time, to synchronize their schedules. Britain eventually adopted GMT as its legal time in 1880. Then in 1883, on the “day of two noons,” railroad stations across the United States set their clocks to railway standard time, and time zones were established. Within a year, 85 percent of all U.S. cities were using railway time. In 1918, Congress passed the Standard Time Act that set official time zones in the United States. Globally, railroads literally set the clocks for the world as it became essential in terms of efficiency and safety to make sure that the trains ran on time and made their posted connections, particular at rail crossings.

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15-1bRailroad Expansion at Home and Abroad

Railroads and transportation networks link the world together.

Railroad development in the 1860s went far beyond building the first transcontinental railroad. Once it was finished, other rail lines competed to access government funding and create their own cross-country roads. After the meeting of the Union and Central Pacific Railroads rails at Promontory Summit, the Big Four turned to developing the Southern Pacific Railroad Company to tap into the emerging markets in Mexico and to develop copper mines along the border. The Associates focused their attention on creating a line that would reach the growing California market from Sacramento to Los Angeles. They then built a line that eventually connected Los Angeles with El Paso, Texas, and all the way east to New Orleans, Louisiana. These railroads created a regional market that linked Mexico and the U.S. Southwest into an intricate web of cross-border commerce.

The southern line had the potential to draw much larger and international markets as they tapped into the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River trade that drew goods from the Caribbean and Central and South America. Under President Porfirio Diaz, Mexico had its own railroad boom. Because of his favoritism to U.S. businessmen, the Mexican government granted $32 million in subsidies to U.S. companies that would build railroads. Five railroad companies eventually constructed more than twenty-five hundred miles of track that ran south to north. In August 1884, Mexican Central Railway completed an international, transcontinental railroad that linked Mexico City with El Paso, Texas, and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. The road eventually went as far north as Santa Fe, New Mexico. Railroad  boosters  created an even more lucrative Camino Real than the one the Spanish had created in the colonial period. By 1910 and the Mexican Revolution, U.S. companies held almost 90 percent of all investments in Mexican railroads and owned fifteen thousand miles of track south of the border.

Global Americans


Everett Collection Historical/Alamy Stock Photo

J.J. Hill was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1838. At the age of eighteen, he saw an opportunity in the expanding transportation markets along the upper Mississippi River and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to work first on steamboats and then the railroad. In 1870, he started the Red River Transportation Company, which hauled coal, fuel, and passengers on steamboat lines from St. Paul to Winnipeg, developing cross-border commerce between Canada and the United States. A relentless worker, Hill had the motto “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” He was one of the very few who profited from the Panic of 1873 by buying a bankrupt railroad. During the Panic of 1893, when his competitors were failing, he stayed in business by lowering rates and extending credit to his customers. In 1879, he bought the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway with cash. Unlike all other railway owners, Hill never took government land grants, bonds, or loans to finance his businesses. He was the only railway owner never to go into bankruptcy. But in order to make his railways profitable, he created markets. He opened immigration offices in Germany and Scandinavia to encourage farmers to migrate to the upper Midwest. He also introduced hybridized wheat from Russia, which was hardier and could grow in the harsh Dakota winters. Hill was a globalized businessman who realized the advantages of open immigration and free markets. He was an early and strong proponent of free trade, always opposing any tariff bills that would inhibit his companies’ profits.

Railroad owners realized that trade did not end at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They gambled that the transcontinental railroad combined with Pacific steamship service from San Francisco would make the United States a conduit for trade between Europe and Asia, serving as a constructed Northwest Passage, the imagined all-sea route that had enticed early European explorers. Their hopes were dashed when the  Suez Canal  opened in 1869 just after the railroads had been joined in Utah, providing a sea route between Europe and Asia that cut off the long trip around Africa. Nevertheless, railroad investors such as the Big Four saw potential growth in trade between the East Coast and Asia by means of the Pacific Mail and the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Companies, which provided bimonthly service between the West Coast and various ports in Asia. The United States exported cotton, wheat, silver, and opium whereas Asian countries shipped tea, silk, spices, porcelain, and laborers to California ports for distribution throughout the United States.

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15-1cRailroad Workers

An international labor force builds the railroads.

Railroad development happened because of the engineers who planned the routes and the physical labor of thousands of men who did the day-to-day work. As industrialization proceeded, the need for a new class of technical experts knowledgeable in the design and operation of machines emerged. The military had long trained engineers to build fortifications. But now, an entirely new array of engineers—mechanical, mining, and later chemical and electrical engineers—emerged. Many received training at the new land-grant institutions established under the Morrill Act. This act supported technical education by granting 30,000 acres of public domain land that could be used to fund agricultural, mechanical, and technical schools. Some states, such as Wisconsin, put the money into their existing educational systems; others, such as Michigan, created a new school, Michigan State University. These schools gave students the skills necessary to develop the nation’s infrastructure and extract its natural resources. Such schools created a managerial class who oversaw the work of laborers and thus contributed to the class hierarchies evolving in industrializing America.

At the other end of the labor spectrum were the day laborers who did the arduous work of cutting the timber, preparing and shipping the rail ties, mining the coal that fueled the trains, laying the track, and then maintaining the entire system once it was in place. Like the urban areas of the East Coast in the United States in this period, the U.S. West was an industrializing landscape that drew thousands of immigrants from around the world (see Figure 15.1). Chinese men worked on the northern and western lines, and Mexicans for the most part built the southwestern rail lines. African Americans made up the majority of the workers on the southern railroads. By the 1890s, women were also working for railway companies as clerks, machinists, and laborers in the roundhouse and on the tracks. The Northern Pacific employed more than two thousand women by the early twentieth century.

Figure 15.1Migrations into Four Western States, 1870–1920

Although not as large or diverse as the immigration to the eastern United States during this period, the American West also became home to both migrants and immigrants. This table is a sample of four western states’ migration patterns. Can you give historical reasons for why these patterns emerged as they did?

Bar graphs of Native White, African America, and foreign born migrants into California, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah by year. All values estimated. California. 1870 to 1880: native white, 50,000; foreign born, 75,000. 1880 to 1890: native white, 110,000; foreign born, 100,000. 1890 to 1900: native white, 90,000; foreign born, 75,000. 1900 to 1910: native white, 425,000; African American, 5,000; foreign born, 250,000. 1910 to 1920: native white, 250,000; African American, 5,000; foreign born, 250,000. Colorado. 1870 to 1880: native white, 85,000; foreign born, 30,000. 1880 to 1890: native white, 101,000; foreign born, 43,000. 1890 to 1900: native white, 35,000; foreign born, 19,000. 1900 to 1910: native white, 110,000; African American, 8,000; foreign born, 50,000. 1910 to 1920: native white, 28,000; African American, 8,000; foreign born, 10,000. Idaho. 1870 to 1880: native white, 10,000; foreign born, 3,000. 1880 to 1890: native white, 22,000; foreign born, 10,000. 1890 to 1900: native white, 35,000; foreign born, 10,000. 1900 to 1910: native white, 82,000; foreign born, 22,000. 1910 to 1920: native white, 30,000; foreign born, 5,000. Utah. 1870 to 1880: native white, 500; foreign born, 16,000. 1880 to 1890: native white, 2,500; foreign born, 15,000. 1890 to 1900: native white, 2,500; foreign born, 12,000. 1900 to 1910: native white, 3,000; African American, 500; foreign born, 14,000. 1910 to 1920: native white, 7,500; African American, 500; foreign born, 7,000.

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Sources: Hirschman, Charles and Liz Mogford. “Immigrants and Industrialization in the United States, 1880 to 1920.” (http://faculty.washington.edu/charles/pubs/Immigrants_Industrialization.pdf); Kuznets, Simon, and Dorothy Thomas. Population Redistribution and Economic Growth: United States, 1870–1950. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1957.

Not everyone who worked on the railroad was a new immigrant. When the Union Pacific started building west from Nebraska, it turned to the Irish, who made up more than half of its workforce. Irish immigrants had been coming to the United States since the early nineteenth century when they fled the famines in their home country. They found work as laborers in East Coast cities and later along the growing transportation routes as diggers for the Erie Canal and tracklayers for the emerging railroads across the interior of the nation.

In California, the CPRR turned to Chinese labor when white workers went on strike. It employed ten thousand Chinese laborers who constituted 90 percent of its workforce. The Northern Pacific employed fifteen thousand Chinese railroad construction workers, which was a majority of its workers. The Chinese, many of whom had come during the gold rush in the early 1850s, worked for $31 a month (or about $870 in 2014), which was much less than the white workers earned. Although they were given housing—usually in old boxcars—they had to pay for their meals from their wages. The work was difficult for these laborers who dug and dynamited the tunnels that went through the Sierra Nevada. Some men hung from baskets as they bored holes into the side of a mountain, stuffed nitroglycerin in the holes, and lit the fuse after which they were quickly whisked upward. Chinese laborers struck to protest low pay and dangerous conditions, but they were in the middle of nowhere and the company reduced their rations, and so the strike ended quickly.

Chinese Workers on the Union Pacific Railroad, circa 1869

Regardless of race or ethnicity, life as a railway worker was difficult, low paying, and dangerous. Workers had to follow the track as they were laying it. They lived in makeshift shacks or abandoned railway cars and cooked meals over an open fire. Some brought their families, but most were single men who hoped to make enough money before returning home to settle down.


Topham/The Image Works

Throughout the latter decades of the nineteenth century, railroads continued to employ both Chinese and Irish workers, while Mexicans began to make up a larger proportion of the railroad workforce. Because of the massive U.S. investment and development in Mexico, its economy began to shift from a subsistence to an export-driven market. The creation of the railroads that connected the two nations also made migration easier. Mexican men began leaving their homes in rural communities and moving to Mexico’s urban centers, which were becoming overcrowded and could not provide enough work for all. Consequently, Mexican workers kept moving north along the railroad until they crossed the border, which had few barriers, and found work. Eventually families followed. Many settled in the emerging urban areas such as El Paso, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque. Some moved along with the railroad expansion, living in old boxcars that were pulled along behind the advancing track lines.

The railroad transformed the U.S. economy by drawing settlers and workers into the West. Many of these newcomers were Americans in search of economic opportunity. Many were foreign-born immigrants from all over the world, mostly from Asia, Mexico, and southern Europe, who hoped to start a new life. The railroad transformed U.S. trading relations with foreign countries such as Mexico, Canada, and Asia. The railroad was often the first step in drawing these markets and people into the U.S. orbit.

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