Tuesday, February 28, 2012

National History Day Interview

From: "Jeremy Deal" cricket3716@frontier.com

My name is Jeremy Deal and I participate in National History Day. National History Day (NHD) is a nation-wide history competition in which students develop a project about a topic corresponding with an annual theme. This year’s theme is Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in History. My topic is the Transcontinental Railroad. I [have a] few questions which have been unanswered by my research, and I was wondering if you could help me out. I apologize in advance for the long questions, and the comments about them (In parentheses, like this). Thanks again!

1. When the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, it greatly influenced cross-country commerce, trade and travel. During its construction, however, many posters and articles were created saying (I’m paraphrasing) "The Railroad is the key to opening up trade to China, India, and Japan." Throughout my research, however, I have not found any source which reports how much this trade increased after the road was built. (They usually allude to it, and reference it, but no hard facts are given.) My question would be, therefore, How much did the economic trade with Asia and the Indies increase as a direct result of the Transcontinental Railroad? Was freight shipping and passenger travel similarly increased with England, France, and the rest of Europe?

2. "By the time of the completion of the line, the Big Four were reckoned by a government commission to have pocketed $63 million, and to have obtained 9 million acres of land between them, and the owners of the UP were not far behind … " —Christian Wolmar, Blood, Iron, and Gold: How the Railroads Transformed the Road. First of all, I would liked to make sure that this commission actually exists. (I don’t believe it was made up, but its always good to double-check.) Where could I find this commission for myself? It would make a fantastic primary source. My second question: the quote states the amount of money and land the Central Pacific and Union Pacific gained from the government subsidies in building the road. How much did each company profit from the line due to the commerce and trade it received over the next 10 years? 50 years?

3. The Native Americans were obviously a major obstacle in the way of the Union Pacific. I do not believe such records exist, but is there a record of the number of deaths of Union Pacific workers due to Native American raids? Also, I have not been able to find any quotes from a Native American leader or spokesman about the Transcontinental Railroad, and why they did not want it through there land. (Yes, I know WHY – they knew it meant an influx of settlers who would invade their land, thereby ending of their way of life, but this point can be made much better if one hears if from a personal point of view, not the understanding of historians a century later) Do such quotes exist?

4. When the Central Pacific was blasting with black powder, they were averaging a foot of progress a day, correct? When they switched to nitroglycerin, they started averaging 3 feet a day, correct? Is there any record of Central Pacific worker deaths which would show the correlation of nitroglycerin was more volatile and dangerous than black powder? As I understand it, the holes which had to be drilled to fill with the nitroglycerin were smaller than the ones drilled for the black powder. How much smaller were these holes? Now, since the holes for nitroglycerin were smaller, an equal amount of nitroglycerin would last longer than an equal amount of black powder, correct? If equal amounts of black powder and nitroglycerin were purchased, was one substance more expensive than the other? By how much?

5. In your opinion, what is the greatest significance of the Transcontinental Railroad?

6. If America had no transcontinental lines today, would the modern American economy, companies, government, and railroad regulations allow one to be built?

7. In my project, my most drastic fact is how the railroad shortened the trip from New York to San Francisco from 3-6 months to 7 days. (3 [months] being by ship around South America, 6 [months] being the trip cross-country by wagon.) Are there other drastic increases regarding the Transcontinental Railroad?

Thank you for the help!

—Jeremy Deal