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A letter including a description of Chinese railroad workers blasting granite on the Central Pacific railroad grade, 1867. Courtesy of the Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library via the Mountain West Digital Library.

After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, Americans experienced its incredible impact on travel and migration. Coast-to-coast trips that once took several months now only required a matter of days between San Francisco, on the West Coast, and Chicago, the railroad’s eastern hub. Passengers marveled at the speed and relative safety that traveling by train afforded them across regions of the country that only decades before were being explored for the first time. Though there were occasional derailments due to shoddy construction, the Transcontinental Railroad was instantly the most secure way to transport passengers and goods to the West Coast and backfar better than by wagon or ship.

For immigrants to the United States, the Transcontinental Railroad presented an opportunity to seek their fortunes in the West. There, they found more opportunity than the port cities of the East Coast, where discrimination kept immigrants living in urban squalor. The open West and legislation like the Homestead Act of 1862, gave foreigners (and many other Americans, too) the ability to stake claims to their own land, provide for their families, and take control of their destinies in ways that the densely populated East could not. The railroad companies quickly identified these populations as an ideal customer base and developed aggressive campaigns marketing the potential of the West to encourage migration and create more business.