RAILWAY EXPANSION AND THE AMERICAN ECONOMY, 1860-1890
The late nineteenth century in America was marked with the progress of industrialization. During this time, the country experienced changes and developments that would have a lasting impact on various aspects of life as new industries began to produce an urban working class. One of the most important developments from this time was the railroad, which allowed for major expansion across the country. From 1860 to 1890, railroad networks were built across the United States, connecting the country from coast to coast in ways that had never been imagined before. The railroad was arguably the most important development that allowed the American economy to expand and prosper during the late nineteenth century. The development of the railroad allowed the country’s economy to grow through increased trade, labor opportunities, and population growth.
Railroads allowed the country to be united from coast to coast, providing access to trade routes and raw resource collection between states. Factories began to appear in many cities, based around manufacturing raw goods to items that could be shipped out for trade and consumption. Railways allowed these goods to be shipped from one location to another at an affordable cost. Businesses could access raw materials that only existed in some states, using railways to transport these materials in a faster time frame. This increased trade routes both internally and globally. The national economy could increase because it could become more self-sufficient, allowing people in one part of the country to receive shipments of goods from another part in enough time to meet demand. Goods from the middle of the country could now be shipped faster to harbor ports on both ends of the country, which could subsequently be shipped overseas to countries that met the demand. The economy saw a major turn toward consumer culture and mass production, which meant that demand for foreign items in countries that did not have the raw materials to manufacture items themselves increased.
The advent and development of the railroad provided an increase in labor opportunities for the people of America, from construction on the railroads to the ability to move easily for new job prospects. Construction of a railroad and railway tracks was a labor-intensive process that required a significant amount of people to work on the project. People came from all over the country to work temporarily on this construction whenever a new railway line was to be opened. Labor opportunities and the promise of income came from industrialization, which prompted a shift from agriculture-based economic activities to a focus on manufacturing. This led to a concentration of the population moving to urban cities instead of rural areas, which transformed “the fabric of American cities.” The lifestyle and culture quickly changed as the society in these urban areas was significantly different from the rural, farming society that had previously existed in America. The railway allowed people to make the move to urban areas easily and quickly, in order to arrive in cities that had railway stations and outposts. It was also cost-effective for people to move via railroad instead of traditional transportation. By doing this, people were moving to the areas that had become populated with shops, offices, factories, and warehouses that provided easier access to more jobs and economic opportunity. The growth of the urban working class was accumulated during this time, as well as the business-owning middle class who benefited from the profits of economic growth.
The population growth grew in the United States at this time because of the increase in personal wealth and the rise in immigration. Families were now able to have more children because they were able to earn more of a living than previously before. The news of income and employment opportunities spread across the globe, and many people in Europe and around the world began to migrate to America to take advantage of this prosperity. In the late nineteenth century, 11.7 million people migrated to the United States from countries in Europe, as well as Britain, Russia, and China. The railroad allowed immigrants to travel to different cities once they arrived in the country, which allowed them to spread throughout the states. This was due to the fact that harbor towns, where ships would come in, were now easily reached by rail and people did not have to stay in the immediate location they arrived in. Once opportunities arose in other parts of the country, immigrants could easily go to other locations and find work there. At this time, rail travel was also connected to larger European networks, which made it easier for immigrants who had already settled in the country to bring over more family members because they could purchase tickets for them from companies that were connected to transportation networks back home. The arrival of these immigrants produced the development of ethnic neighborhoods in major urban cities. This allowed for modernization to happen within the country, as multicultural hubs produced growth for the economy.
Railroad production and expansion in America saw a significant increase in the late nineteenth century, allowing the economy to increase through trade, labor, and population growth. Railways served to unite the country in a new way, allowing more people to travel from state to state for recreational and economic purposes. Industrialization increased during this time, and the railway was a major factor in bringing prosperity to the nation, creating the modern American culture that is preserved today. The railroad continues to be a significant part of transportation in the United States and serves to connect its citizens.
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