The railroad industry was thriving and growing during the Civil War reconstruction. Although the railroad industry existed before this, there was an already existing one. For example, the first American steam-powered passenger train ran in 1886. . . In Charleston, a genteel town, in 1830, the railroad’s beginnings (Abrams 325). The construction of the transcontinental Railroad, economic problems in railroad expansion, New York Central’s expansion and the graft-and-bribery by Commodore Cornelius Van-derbilt are some of the key events in railroads business in late 19th century.
In 1836, the American statesmen John Plumbe (18Railroads) proposed a transcontinental rail system to expand westward. This was inspired by public demand. Congress finally authorized construction of two railroads in July 1862 that would connect the Mis-sissippi Valley with the Pacific coast (Allen 55). The Union Pacific ran westward from Council Bluffs in Iowa. The Central Pacific ran eastward from Sacramento in California. Each company was given business by the government through overcharging, decep-tion and cheating. Congress gave generous loans and land grants to encourage rapid completion of these roads. These subsidies were dependent on the place where the track was to be laid. They were given in either plains or mountains. Land grants were available in plots of 100 and 60 acres on the other side of the track. Even with these subsidies, construction was much slower than Congress expected. The Union Pacific started off with forty-miles of track in its first two decades. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, the Central Pacific was planning to build tracks within Union Pacifics allotted territories. Central Pacific was threatening to lay additional tracks in the Union Pacific’s allotted terri-tory. This would increase Central Pacific’s profits, but also threaten Union Pacific’s financial viability. Union Pacific’s owners decided to improve the work hours and increase the number men employed. These changes led to the construction of over eighty miles in tracks in the third year. This represented an increase of 400% in overall production.
They met at Promontory in Utah on May 10, 1869. The lines, which spanned a staggering 1750 miles (Allen58), There were elaborate ceremonies, including the driving the last spike (Anderson 223). Unfortunately, sound construction methods and the lives of workers were ignored. This marked the end of the first transcontinental railroad constructed in the latter half of the 19th Century. The West developed simultaneously and with the construction of Western railroads. Railroads were more widely recognized than in any other part of the country. Although the railroad provided vi-tality to its service areas, it could also cause stagnation by withholding services.
The transcontinental railroad was a success, but it wasn’t always easy. While other railroads had already begun to build westward, the panic of 1873 followed by the depression caused many lines to be halted or delayed (Foner 518). Some railroads were able to resume or accelerate construction after the 1877 boom. In 1883, there were three more rail connections between Missis-sippi Valley & the West Coast: The Northern Pacific, connecting St. Paul and Portland; Santa Fe linking Chicago to Los Angeles; Southern Pacific connecting New Orleans to Los Angeles. Southern Pacific had also purchased or constructed lines that ran from San Francisco to San Francisco, as well as from San Francisco towards Los Angeles. Many lines were in danger of going bankrupt because of competition and poor economic situations. The expansion process was slowed down again by the end 1890s.
In the very short period following the Civil War, the construction of railroads connecting the Midwest and Pacific coasts was an important event. The development of a rail network connecting virtually all important communities west of the Mississippi to Chicago was no less significant for the nation’s economy.
The railroads were ruthless in their exploiting of their position in the West as well as the Midwest. They fixed prices to suit their convenience and discriminated between their customers. They tried to establish a monopoly in transportation to all points.
Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of America’s most notorious railroad barons, was also known. Vanderbilt carried freight and passengers on a ferry between Staten Island and Manhattan as a young boy. He was soon in control of all the ferry lines and short shipping routes around New York City. His steamship empire grew and he became known as Commodore Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, at the height of the California gold rush, opened a shipping line between the East Coast and California in 1851. It included land transit across Nicaragua as part of the route for the Nicaragua Canal (Vanderbilt).
He became interested in railroads after the Civil War. In 1867, he was in control of New York Central Railroad. Vanderbilt was unsuccessful in his attempt to take control of Erie Railroad. However, he vastly expanded his railroad empire. Chicago was now connected to New York City using rail by 1873. Cornelius Vanderbilt was succeeded by William Henry Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt University and the College of Physi-cians and Surgeons were all funded by the family’s vast fortune.
The Vanderbilts, to put it mildly were extremely wealthy and powerful. The Vanderbilt brothers owned more railroad miles than any other family in 1900 (Allen 60). Many cartoons were drawn during this period, showing the power Vanderbilt held over railroad, employees, and government. These cartoons weren’t always flattering because the Vanderbilts were corrupt and unscrupulous.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, his heirs, took control of the New York Central rail network by gradually integrating smaller systems. The New York Central Railroad, one of America’s major railroads, was a link between the East Coast and the Interior. It was founded in 1853 as a merger of 10 small railroads. The Erie Canal runs from Albany to Buffalo. The earliest railway in New York was the Mohawk and Hudson.
Erastus Cornwalling, who was elected four times mayor in Albany, and who served as president of Utica, Schenectady, one the consolidated railroads, was the New York Central’s moving spirit. He was the New York Central’s president from 1864 to 1864. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had defeated the Central’s stock, won control and combined it with his New York Hudson Railroads, which ran from Manhattan through Albany.
Vanderbilt joined the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway to complete his system, which extended from Buffalo to Chicago. In 1871, he added the Michi-gan Central. The Central purchased the New York, West Shore, and Buffalo Railroad, on the western shore of the Hudson River, in 1885 under William. The network eventually grew to 10,000 miles, linking New York to Boston with Montreal, Chicago, Chicago, St. Louis and Chicago. This was the longest single railroad in America that had more track than the trans-continental railroad.
There were great changes in rail transportation between 1900 and 1914. The West saw great expansion thanks to the Union Pacific’s perseverance and the Central Pacific’s completion of the transcontinental railroad. The slowdown in 1873 caused a slowdown in the economy, which opened the door to the Vanderbilts. Thanks to railroad development in late 1800s, the scene was set for an economic boom that would last until 1900.