For decades, people have been dreaming of an efficient transportation system that would connect the entire country. To travel from coast to coast meant a treacherous six month journey on horse. Especially during the era of the Gold Rush, people needed quick transportation to get to western settlements and boomtowns. America was in desperate need for a Transcontinental Railroad. Transportation before the train was built cost $1,000m but after, the cost decreased to $150.
Theodore Judah, a young civil engineer, proposed the most successful pathway for the Transcontinental Railroad. Judah identified the Donner Pass which was an area in Northern California.
Judah enlisted a group of investors famously known as the Big Four to help form the Central Pacific Railroad company. The men were Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis Huntington.
After achieving congressional approval Judah was able to get President Lincoln to pass the Pacific Railroad act in 1862.
Pacific Railroad Act of 1862
The Pacific Railroad Act was passed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and it provided the terms for the construction of the railroad. It allowed for two railroad companies, The Central Pacific and The Union Pacific. Each company received 6,400 acres of land and $48,000 government bonds were given to the two companies for every mile of track laid.
Central Pacific Subsidies: the company was given $32,000 in government bonds for every mile built in the plateau between the Sierra Nevada mountains and Rocky Mountains. Since blasting through the tunnels was one the most dangerous areas, the government provided $48,000 for every mile through the mountains.
Union Subsidies: For every mile built in 20 mile sections, the company was given $16,000.
Central Pacific Challenges: The Central Pacific had to pas through the Sierra Nevada mountains while building the track. In order to blast through the mountains and solid granite, workers had to deal with dangerous explosives. The Chinese were lowered in woven baskets to fill holes with explosives. If they were not pulled up in time they would die. They were challenged with creating tunnels that were thousands of feet long. Sometimes they would only blast through one foot a day. They also lived in fear of avalanches and the tunnels collapsing while they slept. Additionally, while working in the mountains the workers faced harsh winter conditions such as blizzards
Union challenges: Although union workers did not have to deal with tunnels, they had to face the Native Americans. Since the Transcontinental used land from the reservations and hunted most of the buffalo, the Natives raided and attacked the workers. They constantly pulled up tracks and derailed trains. Attacks included derailed tracks, scalping, setting workers on fire, and murder.
By 1865, the railroad workforce was decreasing in size and more laborers were needed. The Big Four tried recruiting African Americans, Irish men, and Mexican immigrants however it did not help.
Charles Crocker suggested that they bring Chinese Immigrants to build the railroads. In three years, 80% of the workforce were Chinese Immigrants. They were proved to be more hard working than American laborers. They were vital with creating tunnels through the Sierra Nevada Moutains. The immigrants performed dangerous feats such as lowering themselves down cliffs, filling holes with explosives, and quickly lifting themselves up as fast as possible.
Workers: Mormons worked with both companies. 80% of the Central Pacific railroad consisted of Chinese immigrants. There were Irish Immigrants under the Central company also. Poor northern and southern Americans such as old confederates and people who struck out on the Gold Rush were also workers.
Leland Stanford was instrumental in the process of creating The Transcontinental Railroad. As a part of the Big Four, Stanford was the President of the Central Pacific Railroad. After serving one term as the Governor of California, Stanford devoted his focus towards the Central Pacific, making sure it gets access to its funds at all times. He brought political influence toward the project, making it an important historical aspect of America.
Thomas C. Durant,
He was a medical doctor turned businessman. After buying 2 million dollars in government shares he illegally gained control over the Union Pacific company. He created Crédit Moblier of America which was supposed to be on an independent contract but it was investors who took the government money.
Congressional investigations revealed additional entrepreneurs who had profited from te Pacific Acts.
Effects of the Railroad
Now, people could travel from New York to San Francisco in less than two weeks rather than going on a six month journey. The Railroad connected the entire country and allowed for easy transportation. Soon, the railroad was open to the public and population throughout the western areas increases as people could now travel quicker.
More trading areas were opening throughout the country since the railroad allowed for goods to be shipped across America. Within ten years, the railroad shipping $50 million worth of freight coast to coast every year.
This railroad was the beginning of another technological revolution as more and more technologies were being produced to make the transportation even more efficient. Many other railroads were built off of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1890's.
Lifestyle for the workers.
Workers typically had a of beef, black coffee and bread. The Chinese ate vegetables, seafood, and ate pigs and chickens that they raised for evening meals. The Irish ate beef and potatos.
The Irish Immigrants who mainly were apart of the Central Pacific left work due to unequal pay, but company was able to hire the Chinese immigrants who had arrived for the Gold Rush. The average Irish worker received $35 dollars per month with living space while the average chinese worker was payed about $30 and had to live in contracted tunnels.
Men slept together on bunks with the concern of water born illness and fear of Native American night raids and slaughters.