Transcontinental Railroad Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

The transcontinental railroad allowed for quicker, cheaper transportation of people and goods, and allowed for settlement in larger parts of the United States. Read on to learn how this railroad united the country in a way it never had been before.

Early Plans for the Railroad

Ever spend seven years on a project?! Well, that's how long it took for the transcontinental railroad to be completed. Talk about dedication!

In the mid-1840s, a New York business man named Asa Whitney proposed the building of an expansive railroad system that would be funded by the United States government. However, Congress was divided about the project at the time. It wasn't until the early 1860s that all this would change and the idea of a railroad seemed like it would finally come to fruition.

An engineer named Theodore Judah had gathered the support of several California-based investors to form the Central Pacific Railroad Company, and it wasn't long before government leaders were convinced that this construction project was a necessity for the growth of the country. With President Lincoln's support, the Pacific Railroad Act was signed into law in 1862.

The Start and Purpose of the Railroad

The Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 chartered the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies, which required them to build a railroad that would connect the east and west regions of the United States. In order for settlement in the west to grow and for urban places to develop, like those long-established in the east, this uniting railroad was essential.

In 1862, these two railroad companies started their seven-year project and tackled a number of challenges as they built the transcontinental railroad. The construction of the railroad took place in two places, with one end beginning in Sacramento, California, and the other end beginning in Omaha, Nebraska. At the end of this project, the two ends met on May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah.

This railroad line, first known as the Pacific Railroad, extended approximately 1,900 miles, and it was the first of a series of railroads that were built later in the 1900s, thus creating a nationwide transportation system. Due to less hazardous travel conditions, quicker travel, and the quick purchasing of land grants, many parts of the country were quickly settled.

Transcontinental Railroad Celebration
Railroad Celebration

In fact, before the transcontinental railroad, the transporting of goods and people was quite a slow and expensive process, which mostly depended upon wagon trains and stage coaches. Interestingly, before the construction and use of this railroad, travel across the country would cost approximately $1,000! After its construction, travel across the country decreased dramatically--costing individuals around $150. What a price reduction!

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