Thursday, 23 June 2011


Railroads have played a large role in the development of the United States of America, especially  the colonization of the West.
The American railway mania began with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad‎ in 1828 and flourished until the Panic of 1873 bankrupted many companies and temporarily ended all growth.
Although the South started early to build railways, it concentrated on short lines linking cotton regions to oceanic or river ports, and the absence of an interconnected network was a major handicap during the Civil War.
The North and Midwest constructed networks that linked every city by 1860. In the heavily-settled Corn Belt (from Ohio to Iowa), over 80 percent of farms were within 5 miles of a railway, facilitating the shipment of grain, hogs and cattle to national and international markets.
A large number of short lines were built, but thanks to a fast developing financial system based on Wall Street and oriented to railway securities, the majority were consolidated into 20 trunk lines by 1890. State and local governments often subsidized lines, but rarely owned them.
Rail was strategic during the American Civil War, and the Union used its much larger system much more effectively. Practically all the mills and factories supplying rails and equipment were in the North, and the Union blockade kept the South from getting new equipment or spare parts. The war was fought in the South, and Union raiders (and sometimes Confederates too) systematically destroyed bridges and rolling stock—and sometimes bent rails—to hinder the logistics of the enemy.
In the South most railroads in 1860 were local affairs connecting cotton regions with the nearest waterway. Most transport was by boat, not rail, and after the Union blockaded the ports in 1861 and seized the key rivers in 1862, long-distance travel was difficult. The outbreak of war had a depressing effect on the economic fortunes of the railroad companies, for the hoarding of the cotton crop in an attempt to force European intervention left railroads bereft of their main source of income.Many had to lay off employees, and in particular, let go skilled technicians and engineers. For the early years of the war, the Confederate government had a hands-off approach to the railroads. Only in mid-1863 did the Confederate government initiate an overall policy, and it was confined solely to aiding the war effort.
With the legislation of impressment the same year, railroads and their rolling stock came under the de facto control of the Confederate military.
Conditions deteriorated rapidly in the Confederacy, as there was no new equipment and raids on both sides systematically destroyed key bridges, as well as locomotives and freight cars. Spare parts were cannibalized; feeder lines were torn up to get replacement rails for trunk lines, and the heavy use of rolling stock wore them out. In 1864-65 the Confederate railroad network collapsed; little traffic moved in 1865.
During the Reconstruction era, Northern money financed the rebuilding and dramatic expansion of railroads throughout the South; they were modernized in terms of rail gauge, equipment and standards of service. the Southern network expanded from 11,000 miles (17,700 km) in 1870 to 29,000 miles (46,700 km) in 1890. The lines were owned and directed overwhelmingly by Northerners. Railroads helped create a mechanically skilled group of craftsmen and broke the isolation of much of the region. Passengers were few, however, and apart from hauling the cotton crop when it was harvested, there was little freight traffic.
The Panic of 1873 ended the expansion everywhere in the United States, leaving many lines bankrupt or barely able to pay the interest on their bonds.
The Southern states had blocked westward rail expansion before 1860, but after secession the Pacific Railway Acts were passed in 1862, allowing the first transcontinental railroad to be completed in 1869, making possible a six-day trip from New York to San Francisco.[
 Other transcontinentals were built in the South (Southern Pacific, Sante Fe) and along the Canadian border (Northern Pacific, Great Northern), accelerating the settlement of the West by offering inexpensive farms and ranches on credit, carrying pioneers and supplies westward, and cattle, wheat and minerals eastward.
The federal government operated a land grant system between 1855 and 1871, through which new railway companies in the uninhabited West were given millions of acres they could sell or pledge to bondholders. A total of 129 million acres (520,000 km2) were granted to the railroads before the program ended, supplemented by a further 51 million acres (210,000 km2) granted by the states, and by various government subsidies. This program enabled the opening of numerous western lines, especially the Union Pacific-Central Pacific with fast service from San Francisco to Omaha and east to Chicago.
 West of Chicago, many cities grew up as rail centers, with repair shops and a base of technically literate workers. Although the transcontinentals dominated the media, with the completion of the first in 1869 dramatically symbolizing the nation’s unification after the divisiveness of the Civil War, most construction actually took place in the industrial Northeast and agricultural Midwest, and was designed to minimize shipping

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