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Westward Expansion and The American Dream

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Between the years of 1860-1890 the United States can be attributed by Americans’ pursuit to happiness. Two major developments during this time that drove westward expansion were the Pony Express and the Transcontinental Railroad.

This pursuit of happiness is what we know now as the American dream. Through this ideal we created more efficient ways to trade, communicate and travel. As a country we have always found ways to cut cost and time in order to get more bang for our buck. Westward expansion was triggered by Americans creating services that would allow them to trade goods and travel at rates they previously were unable to. Through the Pony Express and the Transcontinental Railroad by 1890 most of the America was settled. This time in American history was a pivotal in its development both economically and industrially. American found ways to communicate and travel through technological breakthroughs that have formed the country we live in today. These developments allowed settlers to move and populate new parts of the country. Settlers were able to move freely into areas which enabled them to utilize natural resources that allowed for efficient economic and agricultural growth.

The Pony Express was created in 1860 this was an advanced mail delivery system that allowed Americans to send and receive mail from long distances approximately 2,000 miles. This service utilized horseback riders who would travel great distances to deliver mail. This was a comfort for Americans they found to be necessary in order to send and receive letters and goods from people across the country. Americans had not previously had this valuable asset and immensely benefited from this service. A trip of 2,000 miles would have a letter delivered in 10 days which at this time was a great increase from prior mail services that utilized freight. The firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell founded the Pony Express, which carried small amounts of mail by horseback, at a pace that was not previously seen before. The cost of delivery was approximately $40 (Olson 2015). $40 to deliver mail was a high price for a needed service but was the only alternative and was most likely accepted since there was not a more efficient service available. The express also gave job opportunity to young riders that where in need of work and allowed them to earn $25 a week. In the 1860’s $25 weekly was a good amount of money even though this opportunity had many high risks associated, Pony Express riders were often high risk do to vigorous terrain, weather and attack from Indian Tribes when they passed through territories occupied by tribes. Although there where such high risks riders still took these jobs due to the lack of work during this time. The Pony Express lasted for only eighteen months, it seems that these 18 months was a very pivotal time in U. S history because it created a need for mail service that was. Much desired in order to communicate through letter and correspondence. High prices and high risk was most likely the reason that after such a short amount of time the transcontinental railroad put the pony express out of business. The Transcendental railroad was the breakthrough in the late 1860’s that ended the Pony Express due to a much more efficient and was less costly to the consumer.

In 1862 President Lincoln signed the pacific railroad act; this resulted in the building of a railroad from the Missouri river to the Pacific Ocean. These distances where not highly travelled due to the lack of resources but the idea of a railroad would change this forever. The Pacific railroad was built in a joint venture between the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad companies. Jeff L. Brown wrote in an article named Civil Engineering that one of the hardest parts of building the railroad was finding laborers that were willing to take on the immense risks associated with traveling across the nation to build it. The most success was when the railroad started to utilize Chinese immigrants who came to California looking for work. The idea of the railroad seems to be in an effort to allow settlers to move more freely throughout America allowing them to spread out and utilize the many resources the land offered. From 1860 to 1890 the U. S territory was almost completely settled. The population had spread immensely during this time. In the book The Transcontinental Railroad Dianne Gimpel speaks about how the ability to go coast to coast in seven days made “Modern America Possible”. The amount of culture, entertainment and movement of goods was certainly a huge impact on economic growth. The railroad was a huge success and gave opportunity for a nation to grow at a rate never previously seen. Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad travel was extremely difficult and dangerous. In the book The Transcontinental Railroad Dianne Gimpal states one of the main reasons people wanted the railroad and the ability to move so frequently was because of the discovery of gold in 1848 near Sacramento. The railroad gave the idea that the pursuit to happiness was possible and Americans began to race across country in order to gain enough wealth to live the life they have always dreamed.

In Closing it is obvious the pursuit of happiness has a lot to do with westward expansion and the drive for industrial advancement during the years of 1860-1890. There are many reasons American settlers desired and found their way across the country looking for wealth and happiness. Many of the inventions and innovations during this time period were created with the same ideals we have today such as the American Dream. It’s obvious that Americans always found a way to figure out a way to live the life they wanted through such innovative ways. The Pony Express was one of the first mail carrier style innovations. Sending and receiving mail is a service we still utilize in present day. The Pony express was expensive and took longer that Americans were willing to wait. The Pony Express also was a very dangerous occupation that had trouble finding workers willing to take the risk associated.

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Westward Expansion And The American Dream. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from
“Westward Expansion And The American Dream.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019,
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