Engraved cover illustrations from 1881 Timetable and Map
Engraved cover illustrations from 1881 Timetable and Map

Event Summary
external image Transcontinental_railroad_route2.png
The development of railroads was one of the most important outcomes of the Industrial Revolution.


  • The Transcontinental Railroad linked the country. Not only did the railroad transport people, but it also transported a variety of goods, allowing for new markets and resources as well for manifest destiny.
    • The railroad was built by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific companies.
      • For each mile of track these companies completed, they were rewarded with 640 acres of public land. Overall, the railroad companies were given about 200 million square acres of land.

  • The railroad directors, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, made their fortunes building the transcontinental railroad.
    • They furthered their fortunes by accepting money from public officials and by charging various shipping rates.


Click on Binding the Nation by Rail for more information on the Transcontinental Railroad.

For more background information, see Building the Transcontinental Railroad from Digital History.

game_icon.svg.pngFor an interactive timeline and map on the race to Utah by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, visit PBS: Race to Utah!.

See also The Story of the First American Transcontinental Railroad from the Union Pacific Railroad Museum


Driving the Last Spike from the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco provides an informative overview of figures, like Leland Stanford, responsible for the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

primary_sources.PNGPrimary Sources

The Driving of the Last Spike, painting by Thomas Hill, 1881
The Driving of the Last Spike, painting by Thomas Hill, 1881


Excerpt from Diary of Railroad Construction Engineer, 1868

Picture shows the Train That Carried Leland Stanford to the Golden Spike Ceremony. Stanford Watches from the Hill Above
external image First_Transcontinental_Rail.jpg


Multimedia.png Video Resources

Transcontinental Railroad from BBC. This is the first of five parts; the other parts are also available on YouTube.

The Transcontinental Railroad: Uniting the States of America, the third place student entry in the 2010 National History Day competition
from the perspective of a young girl whose father was a Chinese laborer.

See multimedia materials from the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project from Stanford University.


Building the Union Pacific from Wyoming Tales and Trails

Click here for a youtube clip showing the expansion of the railroads from 1830 to the 1990s

Rotating_globe-small.gifChinese Railway Workers

For additional links on Chinese immigration and Chinese railroad workers, see United States History II.3

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline: Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, Stanford University

"Chinese Laborers at Work": Harper's Weekly, Vol. 11, 1867
"Chinese Laborers at Work": Harper's Weekly, Vol. 11, 1867





The Big Fill in Golden Spike Historical Site
The Big Fill in Golden Spike Historical Site











Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.53.33 AM.pngNative Americans

Native Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad, PBS American Experience

Native Americans: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad, Digital Public Library of America

Native Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad from Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Reports from the End of the Track from PBS reports on conflicts with Native peoples as the railroads moved west.

Multimedia.pngNative Americans and the Railroad, YouTube

multicultural.pngAfrican Americans


"They Also Worked in Large Numbers on the Railroad," Panel 38 from Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro.


book.pngPicture Books about the Transcontinental Railroad
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For information on Chinese immigration and the laws regarding Chinese exclusion acts, visit the US Department of State Milestones: 1866-1898






rotating gif.gifSee United States History II.1 for more on technological and industrial developments after the Civil War