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Moving West: The History of the Transcontinental Railroad

After the American Revolution, a new, independent country was formed. With the colonists gaining independence from Britain, the population started to look at the country and to expand beyond the original thirteen colonies. Through a series of moves and purchases, within several decades the amount of land in the United States stretched from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans.

With the additional land brought additional opportunities for people. With the California Gold Rush and the chance to get a new life along with land to call their own, many people packed up and traveled west to settle. However, in the early 1800's travel from east to west was very hazardous. The only choices settlers had were either by wagon train with groups, via stagecoach or by way of riding west by horseback. None of these methods were very efficient.

In the 1800's trains began to emerge as an option for travel for people. Train routes started to show up in the east as well as west, however, the two parts of the country were still separate. But, with the signing of the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, it was ordered to have two major railway companies, the Central Pacific Railway and the Union Pacific Railway, work on a railroad that would connect the country. The two companies started the project in 1863 and were completed in 1869 with the final stake placed in the ground in Utah.

The project was difficult with many obstacles faced along the way. However, with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railway, it connected east and west so that travel would be easier and safer. This opened the door to further expansion of the rail system to include all parts of the country, making travel and commerce more efficient. To learn more about the First Transcontinental Railway, please feel free to review the following information:

Eastern Railway History

  • America's First Trains - Historical article giving readers a look at some of the first trains that were in the United States.
  • Railroads and Maps - Informative web site providing a look at early railroads and early maps of the tracks used.
  • History of Early Railroads - Helpful descriptive article giving a review of the early United States transportation from the early 1800's.

Western Railway History

  • Railroads and the West - Useful article explaining how the railways in the west led to a rise in immigration.
  • Early American Railroads - Information on early railways in the United States and how it led to growth of the west.
  • Railway Museum - Educational site with images and information on railways in the western United States.

Pacific Railway Act of 1862

Railroad Companies

  • Central Pacific Railroad History - Historical website which provides a look at the history of one of the companies involved in building the First Transcontinental Railway.
  • Central Pacific Railroad - Information on the rail company that worked on the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
  • Union Pacific History and Photos - Informative website dedicated to the history through words and pictures of the other company that built the First Transcontinental Railway.
  • Historical Society - Organization that was formed to document and recognize the achievements of the company that worked on the eastern portion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Dangers of the Railroad

Connecting the Rails

Historic Significance

  • Impact of the Railroad - Informative page with information on the effect that the railroad had on the United States.
  • Historical Significance - Article providing a brief historical overview of the completion of the railroad.
  • Railroad Facts - Basic information about the facts surrounding the Transcontinental Railway.
  • Mining and Railroads - Helpful page showing how the First Transcontinental Railroad was important to the mining industry, and others.

Originally posted on

Page created by Ms Deborah Ward's class.


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