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If any act symbolized the taming of the Northwest frontier it was the driving of the final spike to complete the nations first transcontinental railroad1 The first railroad west of the Mississippi River was opened on December 23 1852 Five miles long the track ran from St Louis to Cheltanham Missouri Twenty-five years prior there were no railroads in the United States twenty-five years later railroads joined the east and west coasts from New York to San Francisco2 No other single factor contributed more the commercial and social development of the Pacific Northwest than the arrival of the railroad For the first time in history people could get to the west coast in a matter of days rather than months by covered wagons or boat around the southern tip of South America Immigrants adventurers opportunity-seekers and entrepreneurs came by the hundreds of thousands Between 1887 and 1889 the railroad brought into the area an estimated 100000 people 3 The population of Washington in 1880 was 75116 By 1890 it had reached 349390 a 365 percent increase in just ten years 4 The Pacific Northwest advanced in a single generation the development that took the eastern United States several generations to accomplish as they went from a frontier to urban society As a result of railroad surveys commissioned during the 1860s for the purpose of finding practical routes to the Pacific three railroads were chartered for westward transcontinental expansion These railroads were the Union Pacific Central Pacific and the Northern Pacific The Union Pacific came from Omaha in the east the Central Pacific came from Sacramento in the west and met each other at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10 18695 The Union Pacific is generally seen as the most important of the northern transcontinental railways partially because of its early construction and also partially because of its more central route6 The Union Pacific did experience financial difficulties because it did not receive federal cash
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