The Corporate Forces Behind the Transcontinental Railroads

A new book looks into the history of the transcontinental railroads and how the corrupt connection between politics and business helped spread the American economy to the West.
July 14, 2011, 6am PDT | Nate Berg
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NPR talks with historian Richard White about his new book, "Railroaded", which looks at how the corporations behind transcontinental railroads and how those businesses largely dictated how the growing American economy and its western cities took shape.

"'Western railroads, particularly the transcontinental railroads, would not have been built without public subsidies, without the granting of land and, more important than that, loans from the federal government ... because there is no business [in the West at that time,] there is absolutely no reason to build [railroads] except for political reasons and the hope that business will come.'

'What we're talking about is 1,500 or more miles between the Missouri River and California, in which there are virtually no Anglo-Americans. Most railroad men look at this, including [railroad magnate Cornelius] Vanderbilt, and they want nothing to do with it.'"

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Published on Monday, July 11, 2011 in NPR
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