America: History of Our Nation

The West Transformed (1860–1896)

Web Extra!

How did the transcontinental railroad change cross country travel?

  1. Once construction on the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, Americans could travel overland from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, or from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast. Travel time decreased dramatically. Before the transcontinental railroad, the trip from the east coast to the west coast could take more than four months. By 1876, a train called the Transcontinental Express was making the trip from New York City to San Francisco in just three and a half days. Use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo! to learn more about the route this train took. Identify at least seven landmarks, such as major cities, rivers and mountains that would have to be crossed, and any points where the railroad line changed to another line (such as from Union Pacific to Central Pacific).
  2. Use the My Maps feature of Google Maps* to plot each of these seven landmarks on a new map. In each plotted point's description box, explain why the location would have been important to the people running the Transcontinental Express.
  3. Change each pushpin icon on the map to something that better represents each landmark, either by using the Default Icons or by adding one of your own. Use the Creative Commons Web site** to search Flickr or Google for images that would make good icons. For example, a cartoon of a river would work well as an icon for any plotted points that mark bodies of water.
  4. Use the line tool to join your icons and to show the route of the Transcontinental Express.

Extensions

  • Use the shape tool on Google Maps to highlight the regions of the route that belonged to different railroad lines. Where did each line begin and end?
  • Use a search engine to research the media attention the transcontinental railroad received in 1869 and the early 1870s. Use search terms like transcontinental railroad, newspaper, article, media, coverage, and New York Times. Did most newspapers seem to think the railroad was a good or bad thing?

Alternative

Once the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, Americans could travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, or from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. By 1876, a train called the Transcontinental Express was making the trip from New York City to San Francisco in three and a half days. Use online or print resources to learn more about the route this train took. Identify at least seven landmarks, such as major cities, rivers and mountains that would have to be crossed, and any points where the railroad line changed to another line (such as from Union Pacific to Central Pacific). Then, have students draw their own map of the United States or print the outline map Physical Regions of the United States (PDF). Plot each of the landmarks you identified on the map. Then draw a line to join your icons and to show the route of the Transcontinental Express. Compare maps with another classmate. How many of your landmarks are plotted on his or her map? How many landmarks did she or he plot that you did not? Discuss what you each used as criteria for identifying landmarks.


*For instructions on how to sign up for and create personal maps, see the Google Maps instructions.

**Pearson only supports the use of material that has been copyrighted by the author under Creative Commons. For a discussion of Creative Commons and how to use the Creative Commons Web site, see the Creative Commons instructions.