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The railroad in the United States.

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Randall, Mac In the simplest manner: the railroad changed the face of a nation. The railroad in the United States changed how people traveled, did business, and how Washington governed people. The railroad created new standards and new laws that still affect the way we live today. It helped create a new type of wealth that had never been seen before and became the first "big business" in the United States. Without the railroads impact, it would be difficult to fathom where the United States and the world would be today. The "golden age" of the railroad is considered to be by many the period that stretched between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the First World War.1 Railroading from 1865 to 1929 covers the great expansion, the golden age and the beginning decline of the railroad. The emergence of the modern America, and the beginning of the Great Depression of the United States also can be seen within these dates; this emphasizes the large role that the railroads had in the industrialization of the America. It is clear that the history of the United States coincides with the history of the railroad; during these times the railroad played a vital a vital role in the building of the United States. But, the relationship was symbiotic, because it is also possible to see that the direction in which the country was going played a role in how the railroad was formed, controlled, and regulated. Truly, the railroad is a form of transportation that helped make the United States what it is today. The year 1865 finally brought an end to war that had sliced a nation in half. The war, however, was not a destructive force to the railroads. "With the exception of the southern lines, American railroads were generally in excellent shape in 1865."2 The Civil War brought new strength to the American railroads. ...read more.


This was needed because the expansion of the rails had now brought the need to move the freight from one line to another. This was not possible because throughout the country there were different gauges. For example in the south the popular gauge was five feet, but on other railroads like the Erie the gauge was six feet. It was decided amongst railroads that a standard must decided on, and that standard became four feet, eight and one half inches.15 Another standard that was created and is still used today is standardized time. Until the movement for Standard Time, each town had its own time. "There were, for example, thirty-eight different times in the state of Wisconsin alone." Given the amount of different times, the speed of trains, and the distance these trains traveled. This spelled one thing: complete chaos. Eventually the problem was solved in 1883, when the General Time Convention was held by the railroads. At this convention it was decided that the continental United States would be broken up into four standard time zones. People soon found it easy to set their clocks by "railroad" time, and thus the railroad standard became a national standard. Other technological innovations that were created to aid the expansion and consolidation of the railways were: the use of steel rails, the automatic coupler, and the air brake. The automatic coupler allowed a coupler to close on impact, but still be able to open from the side of the car. The air brake, invented by George Westinghouse, allowed trains to stop much quicker than they had been able to in the past. Besides bringing about new technology, the consolidation of the railways also brought about the great railroad barons. The railroad had become a likely stop for the strong businessmen interested in making millions by manipulating the rail system. But in gaining such immense power, many railroad builders and consolidators became unethical and ruthless in their business practices. ...read more.


If there is to be an a lasting lesson from the history of the railroads from 1865-1929 it is that major industrial innovations can only live an unregulated life for so long. The United Stated was a booming country experiencing wide spread industrialization. The railroad was an essential part of this boom, but railroads had to change just as the to country had to change. The free going attitude of "laissez-faire" can only last so long in a country where equality and fairness before the law are valued. The railroads fully rode the first wave of industrialization and faded into the background when their time had come. The significance of the railroad will probably never be fully realized, but their impact will always be felt. Encarta Encyclopedia, S.v. "Railroads." CD-ROM Version. Beebe, Lucius. The Trains We Rode. New York: Promontory Press, 1993. Bragdon, Henry. History of a Free Nation. Westerville, Ohio: Glencoe, 1992. Douglas, George. All Aboard. New York: Paragon House, 1992. Stover, John. American Railroads. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997. The World Book Encyclopedia, 16th ed. S.v. "Railroad." 1John F. Stover, American Railroads (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 164. 2Ibid. , p. 59. 3 Ibid. , p. 59. 4 Encarta Encyclopedia, s.v., "railroads." CD-ROM Version 5 Henry Bragdon, History of a Free Nation (Westerville, Ohio: Glencoe, 1992), p. 511. 6 George Douglas, All Aboard (New York: Paragon House, 1992), p. 115. 7 Ibid., p. 115. 8 Douglas, All Aboard, p.120. 9 Ibid. , p. 122. 10 Stover, American Railroads, p. 154. 11 World Book Encyclopedia, 16th ed., s.v., "railroad." 12 Bragdon, History of a Free Nation, p.512. 13 Ibid. , p. 537 14 Encarta Encyclopedia, s.v., "railroads." CD-ROM Version 15 Stover, American Railroads, p.155. 16 Ibid. , p. 607. 17 Ibid. , p. 607. 18 Douglas, All Aboard, p.147. 19 Ibid. , p. 197. 20 Ibid. , p.198 21 Stover, American Railroads, p.123. 22 Ibid. , p. 123. 23 Ibid. , p. 125. 24 Ibid. , p. 128. 25Ibid. , p. 129 26 Ibid. , p.189. 27 Douglas, All Aboard, p.193. 1 ...read more.

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