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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

American Transcontinental and Pacific Transportation

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

Before railroads provided easier, cheaper, and faster overland access to the Trans-Mississippi West, commerce and communication passed across many routes. Several astute entrepreneurs, such as John Butterfield, organized companies that specialized in transporting goods, people, and mail to destinations throughout the West. Although the quality of overland service increased steadily, most westerners looked forward to the day when a railroad would finally arrive in their community. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined to create the first transcontinental railroad across North America. Within a few decades several other transcontinental routes were completed, making it easier to transport settlers into the West and to export the region's bountiful natural resources. By the end of the nineteenth century, these steel ribbons of commerce crisscrossed the region and tied it into broader economic and cultural systems.