Railroad Surveys
A collection of Maps and views illustrating the expansion of the United States 1800-1900

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By the mid-nineteenth century the United States turned its attention to improving communications with those who occupied the vast amount of western land it had recently acquired. Transportation was vital to this end and a transcontinental railroad was proposed. Several routes were proposed, each with great financial gains to be enjoyed by the cities along them. Influential figures in the government were all determined that the areas they represented should be the primary beneficiaries of project. Four different lines were proposed: One along the Buffalo Trail, running from St. Louis along the 38th parallel to San Francisco. Another, which would link the South with the Southwest and California. A third, extending from the Great Lakes to Puget Sound. And finally as a compromise, a line following the 35th parallel from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Los Angles, tying in with existing rail lines that linked the north and south cities was also suggested . To determine which was best, in 1853 the United States government commissioned officials to survey land for a transcontinental railroad. All of survey leaders were convinced that the path that their team followed would be the optimal route for railroad. Congress deadlocked over the issue and it was not until 1862 that it passed the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing the Union Pacific Company and the Central Pacific Company to begin construction. When completed in 1869, the route selected did not directly correspond with any of the original four that were proposed.

The account of the surveys was published under the full title of Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Rout for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, published between (1855-1861). This substantial work contained prints based on the pictures by almost a dozen artists. Their primary objective was to show the terrain with consideration for any obstacles that would impede the laying of track. Also included in the more than seven hundred plates were depictions of Native Americans, wildlife, and Los Angles and San Diego in their nascent stages. The project was well received by the government and the public and did much to shape popular notion of the west.

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