Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Question: Negative impacts on Utah

From: "MERRILL SMITH" pennylovers@msn.com

What were some negative impacts on Utah from the transcontinental railroad?


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly" lmullaly@jeffnet.org

I cannot give details, but here are some ideas.

I am not familiar with Utah per se, but the following patterns can be derived from Nevada and California.

Teaming and stage interests running east and west would have been severely impacted. The number of horses and men, often individually owned such as we find in today's trucking business, engaged in hauling freight would have immediately been affected by the advent of much cheaper rail transport.

The same is true of the stagecoach industry, but only on east-west corridors.

In many cases, however, cheaper transport opened up settlement into the hinterlands (from Nevada, this included Idaho, Nevada and Montana). Therefore a portion of the Overland route stage and team traffic was dislocated more than terminated. While freight data is hard to come by, stage connections are routinely mentioned in public timetables until the advent of the automobile.

Express Services also experienced similar changes. The newly consolidated Wells Fargo Company, abandoned most or all of its long-line staging and became railroad dependent. But at the same time the volume of business increased in the region as a whole, including the back country.

In a completely other area (outside my area of expertise), there may have been some deforestation caused by the need for railroad ties, but not for fuel, since in the latter case coal mining in Wyoming rapidly developed to serve the needs of both the UP and CP.

The railroad clearly would have impacted the monopoly enjoyed by Salt Lake City merchants and hoteliers in their service to settlers coming overland by wagon. Such business was far less in the late 1860s than it had been earlier, but Salt Lake was long considered a very expensive place to stop by such travelers, with the suggestion that prices for goods, services, and animals was highly inflated.

The railroad also would have negatively impacted whatever manufacturing base existed in Utah at this time. Access to cheaper goods of all sorts from Eastern manufactories drove many western companies out of business. This phenomenon was particularly noted in San Francisco, but I am sure applied also to Salt Lake City to some degree.

From a religious perspective, ending the relative isolation of Salt Lake City might have been perceived by some as negative. From a secular viewpoint however, easy access to San Francisco and the Pacific Slope was viewed as a major step forward.

I am not certain how the telegraph industry was impacted. The railroad made arrangements with the Atlantic & Pacific (do I have this right) Company and later Western Union. How this impacted telegraph costs I do not know.

In California, the arrival of the railroad often brought with it huge increases in land speculation with accompanying increases in land costs. However, apart from cattle and sheep grazing, most lands were nearly worthless prior to the railroad's arrival. The railroad also caused the demise of some towns and (more importantly) the growth of others. Allowing for some shady dealings, the net result was positive, although the critique of railroad's contained in Henry George’s classic economic treatise, Progress and Poverty, An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy, was first published in 1879, could probably be applied to Utah.

I recommend that you scan the local newspapers from that era to explore this question further. The newspapers, dependent on local advertising, were very sensitive (and often extremely biased) weather vanes of change. They tend to view things in very short term and reflect the prevailing opinions of merchants and agriculturalists.

All in all an interesting question. From my perspective, the arrival of the railroad in any part of the west (Henry George not withstanding) was extremely positive. It ended the severe isolation of many communities, lead to major growth in agriculture, and greatly facilitated transportation into and out of the various regions. The West as we know it today was basically built by the railroad.

—Larry Mullaly

4/11/2007 7:43 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Bob_Spude@nps.gov

Another Utah specific negative impact was economic. Mormon church leaders had contracted to build the transcontinental line through Utah, and subcontracted to Mormons throughout the territory. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific were both slow to pay, and in the case of the UP defaulted on some of the contracts. This caused hardships throughout Mormon Utah, especially farmers who expected to be paid needed cash for their work. Athearn and Klein go into this in some detail as do others. Brigham Young did accept material from the UP in partial payment in order to build the branch to Salt Lake City, but this did not, for example, help the farmers of Cache Valley.


Bob Spude – Historian – Cultural Resources Management – National Park Service – Intermountain Region – 505.988.6770 Voice – 505.988.6876 Fax

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.

4/11/2007 8:05 AM  

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