The Impact of Railroad Expansion on Americans
Industrialization in the United States occurred in two main phases. The first phase that came before the 19th century saw production shift from artisans to factories. The greatest challenge was how products from the factories could be transported all across America and to the markets. This gave rise to the second and most significant phase of industrialization it the century that occurred between 1865 and 1913. The 19th century expansion of the railroad was one of the many accomplished developments in the United States. It had a significant impact not only economically but socially too.
In 1863, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was the first successful railroad labor organization to oversee the welfare of the constructors. The westward development had a significant impact on America. It brought more people into America, created more money thus bettered the economy and, linked the East and West. Westward expansion also provided a demand to enlarge and improve the nation’s roads and canals. It also assisted in the tremendous growth in trade.
One of the most influential people in construction of the railroad was General William Jackson Palmer who organized the Denver & Rio Grande railway construction. The steel highway enhanced the lives of most city dwellers. The United States was becoming an urbanized country by mid 1890s, and railroads supplied capital cities and towns with finished products from the industries and factories, fuel, building materials, and entrance to markets. The trouble-free presence of railroads brought about economic advancement to key cities and towns. Railroads also had an impact on the physical growth of towns and cities as people tended to settle along the steam railroads and electric street railways, which made uptown living possible.
There was a significant impact on the communication system in the sense that there was a rapid increase in railway express and mail-order merchants who made people from upcountry and rural areas to enjoy cheaper communication. Sending of information through telegraphs received a considerable boost by the introduction of the railroad system. New communication tools, such as the telegraph and telephone gave an allowance to corporate managers to come together across vast distances. The well-interconnected transport network made consumer goods in the remote areas to be less expensive (Barney 26).
Western America received an outstanding boost with the construction of the railroad. They helped unlock new territories to economic development like the formation of the first national parks. They also led to the introduction of modern forms of hotels, resorts, and restaurants. As the nineteenth century grew older, each facet of society and culture was reflected in the railroad.
It brought about new technologies in the manufacturing industries especially in the iron and steel industries joined with like innovations from the chemicals industry to bring about improved production levels. It improved entrepreneurial skills and activities as the corporation from different companies and firms extended by merging into trusts so as to provide funds to the construction of the railroads. Competing firms joined together and formed a single firm that monopolized their activities to increase profits so as to finance the construction of the railroads. The high rates protected American factories and workers from alien rivalry particularly in the woolen industry.
The railroad created investment opportunities therefore, as a result attracted a large number of investors from both the United States and the world at large. It led to the emergence of towns and cities as well as development of the existing ones. Influential and powerful people like John Rockefeller and Jay Gould who held enormous amounts of wealth before were forced to change their strategies as competitors had increased and therefore, resulted in extremely stiff competition. The railroad had introduced technological based skills and the old-fashioned skills paved way for accomplished workers and engineers. (Jayapalan, 99)
The railroads brought about cheap labor, as there was an influx of immigrants from other countries. This was beneficial to the factories, mining industries and farms. It significantly boosted the farming industry as they tripled from about two million in1860 to over six million in1906. The income from the farms also increased rapidly to about $30 billion in 1906 up from $10 billion in 1860. There were many purchases of lands at remarkably little interest from the constructed railroads, which were attempting to establish steady markets around the different states. They brought with them hundreds of thousands of farmers from the Scandinavian countries, Britain and Germany at exceptionally low travel charges. This was as a result of intense advertisement all over the world.
Alongside the mechanical advancements that significantly amplified yield per unit area, the total quantity of land that was under cultivation grew swiftly during the second half of the century, as the railroads opened up new areas for settlement in West America. Wheat farmers enjoyed plentiful productivity in the first half of the revolution from 1876 to 1881 before poor productivity from the European countries made prices of wheat at the world market to go up. However, this condition did not last long as productivity from Europe picked up again and they thus suffered a slump in mid 1880s. In the far west, farmers were exploited by the monopolistic railroad transporters who they depended on most for the transport of their goods to the markets. They however, shifted their blames to the local grain handlers who bought their produce at exceptionally low prices, the railroads and bankers who offered low-interest rates.
In South America, the railroads construction brought key changes in agricultural practices. The most considerable of these was sharecropping, where occupant farmers divided up to half of their produce with the landowners, in substitution for seed and other vital supplies. More than three quarters of the African American farmers and less than 40% of white farmers depended on this scheme because of the Civil War. Majority of the sharecroppers were sheltered in a round of debt, from which the only hope of getaway was improved planting. This had an impact on crops like cotton and tobacco as they were produced in exceptionally large amounts. This affected negatively on the prices and income of farmers. The overproduction led to exhaustion of soils and higher levels of poverty both on the side of farmers and on the side of landowners.
The industrial sector was fast growing and wages doubled. The work was difficult and there was little leisure time, which led to economic recessions. Unemployment and underemployment levels increased and unskilled labor was increasing due to immigration. This condition however, stabilized in 1897 (Smith, 27).
There were several influential and powerful people as well as companies and organizations that contributed significantly to the railroads construction. In addition to the ones stated above others were George Westinghouse in 1873 invented the triple valve and automatic air brake that was used by the heavy machines in construction and The Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 that completed Canadian transcontinental line. This was the first of its kind. Despite the few negative impacts they had, they generally transformed the United States positively.
Barney, W.L. A companion to 19th-century America. Wiley-Blackwell; 2006
Jayapalan, N. History of United States of America. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. 1999
Marshall, N.J. and Malsberger, W. J. The American economic history reader: documents and readings. Routledge; (-2008.
Smith, C and Nash, C. G. Atlas of American history. InfoBase Publishing; 2007