The transcontinental railroads
of the late nineteenth century were the first corporate behemoths. Their attempts to generate profits from proliferating debt sparked devastating panics
in the U.S. economy. Their dependence on public largess drew them into the corridors of power, initiating new forms of corruption. Their operations rearranged space and time, and remade the landscape of the West. As wheel and rail, car and coal, they opened new worlds of work and ways of life. Their discriminatory rates sparked broad opposition and a new antimonopoly politics. With characteristic originality, range, and authority, Richard White shows the transcontinentals to be pivotal actors in the making of modern America. But the triumphal myths of the golden spike
, robber barons larger than life, and an innovative capitalism all die here. Instead we have a new vision of the Gilded Age
, often darkly funny, that shows history to be rooted in failure as well as success.
Signed by President Lincoln on July 1, 1862, the Pacific Railroad Act provided federal support for the building of the transcontinental railroad. Railroads became the fastest transportation for people and the most economical for goods during the 19th century. While none of the business leaders of the Gilded Age led unblemished lives, names like Rockefeller and Carnegie are removed for philanthropy while others are recalled as robber barons.