Driving in of the Golden Spike in Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10th, 1869 to mark the completion of the first American transcontinental railroad - joining the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.
Map of the four major transcontinental railroads, each bringing vast amounts of demographic, economic, and environmental change to their respective regions.
With the aid of the federal government in both massive land grants and financial funding, railroad entrepreneurs and private investors transformed the western United States. From making locations like Las Vegas, Aspen, Sun Valley and other majorly populated and popular cities possible - in addition to national parks - railroads allowed both the population and preservation of all the west. Constructed in response to the gold rush of the 1850's and 60's, investors and businessmen realized the rush would eventually end and new markets must be explored. Advertising tourism and railway traffic forced railroad companies to align themselves with certain groups with certain values, such as environmentalists. Preserving the untouched and exotic natural beauty of the west, from the southern Grand Canyon to the northern mountains and evergreen forests, railroad companies promoted national parks and conservation. Such promotion also coincided with the new markets of exotic resorts and domestic tourism, a part of a new leisure travel business railroad companies advertised along side newly formed national parks. Subsidized railroad companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the most important factor in the substantial increase in leisure travel related markets such as national parks, resorts, and the rise of major western cities with the increased accessibility to once isolated and untraversed regions.
The first true transcontinental railroad, the Union and Central Pacific prided itself on not only it's scenic route as can be seen by the left pain of this flier, but for its San Francisco terminus.
With the invention of the "Pullman Car" in 1864 (luxurious railway cars for the wealthy that enabled travelers to sleep in comfortable cabins) investments in railroads and their destinations skyrocketed. Pictured here is a social cabin that allowed wealthy tourists to socialize and take in the outside views in comfort.
The Northern Pacific took advantage of their exclusive "Yellowstone Park Line" and "North Coast Limited" lines, promoting luxurious travel and unique views and curiousities such as the great Yellowstone Park. Embracing the leisure travel market turned the Northern Pacific from a once bankrupt railroad company to the most profitable of all four.
Opening in 1872 mainly due to the pressure of railroad companies, Yellowstone National Park became a major focal point for the Northern Pacific, who announced their "Yellowstone Park line" in 1880. Pictured above is a party of wealthy tourists judging on their fancier attire (especially the women) and the fact that they are few in number as it was expensive to travel in the luxurious Pullman cars of the Northern Pacific.
The focal point of the Southern Pacific, Yosemite Park opened in 1864 and advertised by the SP in 1907 via their "Yosemite Valley Rail Line." Natural beauty and vast landscapes became the focus of all railways with all locations seemingly in competition with eachother and their respective rail companies who "owned" them.
Although a later advertisement, cities like Las Vegas were a possibility because of the ease of access to them provided by the Central and Union Pacific rails. In addition, irrigation efforts from both the Central/Union and Southern Pacific supplemented the survival and growth of such cities.
A product of railway progress much like Las Vegas, Aspen sprouted up in part because of its natural beauty and proximity to railway lines. Both were advertised by railway companies.
Although opened in 1936, Sun Valley was opened as a product of demand by wealthy leisure travelers for a premier ski resorts comparable to a Switzerland resort - and of course its proximity to railways made it all possible.
American Historama Exhibit. “Reconstruction Era.” American Historama Organization. Accessed April 18th, 2016. http://www.american-historama.org/1866-1881-reconstruction-era/transcontinental-railroad.htm
California State Railroad Museum. “An Iconic Moment in Railroad History.” Great Museum Television. Accessed May 1st, 2016. http://greatmuseums.org/explore/more/binding_ties_the_california_state_railroad_museum
Starkweather, Stuart. “The Transcontinental Railroad: Enabling modern America.” PBworks. Accessed May 1st, 2016. Suplimented https://amwestfall2014.pbworks.com/w/page/90397691/Starkweather%20Page
The Parks in Railroad Building: Empire Building 1873-1885. “Pullman Car, Northern Pacific Ad, Yellowstone Tourists, Yosemite Ad, Las Vegas Ad.” University of Virginia. Accessed May 1st, 2016. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma96/railroad/adverts1.html
White, Ryan. “Families battling cancer enjoy a magical trip aboard The Polar Express.” CTV News. Accessed May 1st, 2016. http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/families-battling-cancer-enjoy-a-magical-trip-aboard-the-polar-express-1.2678354
Mckenna, Mike. “This Idaho Town-Ketchum.” Sun Valley Magazine. Accessed May 1st, 2016. http://www.sunvalleymag.com/Sun-Valley-Magazine/Winter-2014/This-Idaho-Town-Ketchum/
The requirements of building the railroad resulted in significant devastation of the forests of the American West. Lumber was needed for railroad ties, as well as fuel and shelter for workers who needed to cook and stay warm during year-round work on the railroad. Snow sheds, which protected the exposed tracks during the winter months in the mountains, were continuously constructed and dismantled. Support beams for tunnels and bridges were needed to protect workers and the trains. Even after the railroad was constructed, large amounts of wood were required, including on some areas of track that Union Pacific and the Central Pacific had hastily built and planned to go back and fix. These areas not only led to the derailment of trains, but required more logging to make the necessary repairs.
The train not only enabled the migration of people, it also allowed Americans to conquer terrains and remote environments previously impassable and uninhabitable and goods necessary to support large populations to be shipped with lightning speed. As sparsely populated areas grew into towns and cities, they began encroaching upon once “wild” areas. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad dramatically catalyzed the development of the West, a process that both extended settlement and mining into otherwise unreachable areas and caused desertification (or, dry and arid conditions) in places along the route.
Before the transcontinental railroad, people frequently worked on neighboring farms in exchange for agricultural produce in a barter system. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the economy shifted to a system where individuals used cash currency to pay for goods and services. As the demand for manufactured goods increased, individuals preferred payment in gold or paper currency. Valuable resources like silver, lead, and coal could be shipped by railroad for profit.
The transcontinental railroad brought significant changes to Utah’s environment. Landforms were altered while creating cuts, fills, and tunnels. During droughts, the train engines sometimes ignited fires. Agriculture of cash crops, such as wheat and livestock, grew by 340%. Farming techniques became specialized and the use of irrigation increased, altering ecosystems by redistributing water from streams to farmland. New mines were opened. The railroad reshaped the image of Utah from the chosen place of the Mormon faith to more of a source of commercial profit.
Source: Economic, Environmental, and Social Impacts of the Transcontinental Railroad