How Much do You Know About America's First Transcontinental Railroad?
By: John Miller
About This Quiz
In the 19th century, Americans set out to complete construction of one of the most challenging engineering feats in the history of humankind -- they wanted a new railroad that crossed the plains and mountains of the West. How much do you know about this daring plan?
When was the first transcontinental railroad constructed?
As the Civil War raged, America took up a great challenge -- that of completing the first transcontinental railroad system. The project was a long and dangerous undertaking that crossed America's frontier lands.
How many possible routes did engineers present to U.S. Congress?
In the end, after analyzing the possibilities for crossing America, engineers presented just two routes to Congress -- a central route and a southern route. Both routes were potentially treacherous for the crews called to build the rail lines.
What was the geography of the route chosen for the transcontinental railroad?
mostly desert and low mountains
all kinds of terrain
America is one of the biggest countries in the world, one with varied terrain. The route from the Midwest to the West Coast meant crossing everything from plains to rivers to mountains and everything in between.
The central route for the railroad basically followed what other famous path?
Lewis and Clark's journey
The central route chosen for the railroad followed stretches of the Oregon Trail, a path from the Midwest to the West Coast. In the mid-1800s, the Oregon Trail was a dangerous place threatened by violent natives, disease, and natural disasters. Sometimes, people died of dysentery. (Video game joke)
the temporary towns that followed railroad construction crews
As the railroad construction crews laid tracks, small, temporary towns followed them. These "Hell on Wheels" areas featured saloons, brothels and other capitalistic enterprises that made a profit from the working men.
In order to build the railroad, Congress had to grant the companies right of way through the frontier. How wide was the right of way?
about 40 miles
about 4 yards
about 400 feet
The railroads were given right-of-way through the frontier to complete the project. That right-of-way was 400 feet wide, just wide enough to complete the line and to set up various facilities along the way.
Before the transcontinental railroad, people on East Coast had to take a ship around which continent to reach California?
In the days before the Panama Canal, the sea voyage to the West Coast was ridiculously long -- about 18,000 nautical miles. It took five to eight months to make the journey. The railroad was much, much faster.
How did the government's pay rate for construction vary depending on the terrain?
the tougher the terrain, the higher the pay
Government officials were aware that building railroads in the mountains would be extremely difficult … and expensive. So they paid the construction companies more for building the line through the arduous terrain.
True or false, did the American president who authorized the railroad live to see its completion?
Abraham Lincoln was convinced of the railroad's importance to America. And although he witnessed its progress, he didn't live to see the project's completion -- he was assassinated before the Civil War's end.
When construction began, which area of construction moved more quickly?
Union Pacific was responsible for building the eastern portion of the tracks, and they began work near Omaha, NE, where the terrain was fairly flat and forgiving. U.P. quickly laid down hundreds of miles of track across the Great Plains. In the west, the struggle was much more difficult.
Which ethnic group made up the bulk of the labor force for the Central Pacific, which was laying the western portion of the tracks?
Many Chinese immigrants landed on the West Coast looking for new opportunities. Many of them wound up working on the railroads, living in squalid and dangerous conditions doing physically hazardous work.
Once the railroad was complete, how long did it take to travel across the country?
The railroad was a revolution in cross-country travel. Whereas before it took five or more months to travel across America, on the railroad it took just a week. The railroad completely changed life on the frontier and altered America's economic and cultural landscape.