Friday, March 12, 2010

Woot Woot! The Effect of the Railroads on Homesteaders

Woot Woot! What do you think of when you hear this sound? Mr. Rogers? No! How about -- Waiting at a railroad crossing?

Pictured is an Kodak photographic paper AZO stamp box date range 1918-1930 real photo postcard of Engine 2384

by Amber Thieman, Southeast Community College
Many people do not realize the importance the railroad had on our country’s development. I am in awe of how such a pain in my butt has had such significance on our country’s development. I am going to shed light on the importance of the railroad on our homesteaders. Today I will share with you how the railroad provided more efficient transportation for our nation’s homesteaders, molded the development of the United States, and started a new culture.

The railroad provided more efficient means of transportation for our homesteaders. Can you imagine traveling across the country for months? A trip across the country that used to take months, now took a little over a week with the construction of the railroad (Potter & Wynell, 1997).

Goods and services that were once available only locally now could be shipped across the country. The railroad had a direct path from Omaha, NE to Sacramento, CA. The route avoided large cities such as Denver, CO and Salt Lake City, UA (Transportation Economics, 2010). Not only could goods be transported but larger quantities could be moved as well.

In 1794 the Whiskey Rebellion was born because farmers were unable to carry their bulky corn crops to the market for sale. So these farmers began making whiskey so they could transport a more streamlined load. With the development of the railroad farmers and merchants were able to move more goods (Potter & Wynell, 1997). This more efficient means of transportation led to a boom in our country’s development.

As railroads grew in the late 19th century there was a huge growth of towns in the Midwest along the tracks. Some of the hardships for the homesteaders were eased by increasing the availability of goods and increased movement of their crops according to a passage in The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Railways (2000).

The railroad brought many new changes that we use today. Time zones were implemented so the railroad could follow a schedule. More advanced means of communication were also implemented. The telegraph was built across the country right next to the line so communications from town to town and shore to shore were possible (Conrad, nod.).

Because of the railroad development a new culture was born. We still use some of the phrases that were captured due to the railroad as illustrated in Conrad’s Language of the Rails.

For example the phrase “Bells and Whistles” is based on how the trains used whistles and bells to alert people that they were coming. People coined the phrase to say they were going to do something in a big way, just like the trains, as in “One track mind.” We use the expression to indicate a state of mind.

The trains obviously used the tracks to follow a certain path. So “Letting off steam” matches how the steam engines were so impressive with their smoke and sound. The phrase compares the feeling of letting off a strong emotion to the forceful power behind the trains.

Today I took the opportunity to share the impact the railroad had on our country. I described how the railroad provided more efficient means of transportation for our homesteaders. I shed light on how much the railroad influenced our country’s development and some of the cultural influences the railroad had. Now next time you are at a railroad crossing waiting for a never-ending train, think of the magical force the railroad once was for our homesteaders and how our life would not be the same without it.


Conrad, S. (n.d.). The language of the rails. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

Potter, L. A., & Wynell, S. (1997, October). The Homestead Act of 1862. Social Education 61, 6: 359-364. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

Transportation economics. (2010). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:

Tufnell, R. M. (c2000.) The new illustrated encyclopedia of railways. Chartwell Books, Edison, N.J. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from Ebsco.

Listen to the sounds of the trains at: Kaspriske, E. (n.d.). The sounds of horn train horns. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

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