How Did the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Help Create a True United States of America?.
When Abraham Lincoln of Illinois was elected President of the United States in 1860, there were about 36 million people in America, most living east of the Mississippi River in "the North" and "the South." The American West was looked to mostly for its mineral wealth and for help in financing a terrible Civil War. By the turn of the century, there were 76 million Americans, many now living along the engineering marvel of the nineteenth century, the transcontinental railroad. As historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, there was "Nothing Like It in the World." Over the last forty years of the nineteenth century, America truly became the "United States" with a vast east-west axis, rather than a narrow north-south one.
Though Abraham Lincoln is forever identified with holding America together during our Civil War, he had an even bigger vision for America that we should honor him for. He was the primary supporter of the building of a "transcontinental" railroad. Though he barely knew what a railroad was where he lived on the edge of the American frontier, he knew that the building of a great railroad would bring many advantages to people across the country. It would help expand America's industrial power and manufacturing and supply the nation with great volumes of goods and products, especially foodstuffs.
Lincoln figured out that the building of railroads would allow the movement of many more people and goods across the country than could be carried on canal boats, wagons and stagecoaches. The further west people migrated, the more difficult it was to find water and to "engineer" paths over rugged mountains. The great distances of the American West would require ever-faster means of getting across big spaces, like the Great Plains and Deserts. Eventually, the trip from coast to coast across America would drop from 32 days in a stagecoach to 4 days on a train.