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One thing that helped ease California's isolation was the telegraph. By 1861, telegraph lines stretched across the country. Unfortunately, buffalo on the plains often knocked down the poles, leaving California isolated again until the line was fixed.
10. The Transcontinental Railroad
People dreamed of a railroad, but no one dreamed it more than a man named Theodore Judah. He and his assistant, Daniel Strong, vowed to find a way through the Sierras. After exploring the Sierras, and almost losing their lives to the rugged mountains, they eventually found a route that would work.
Judah needed funds to build the railroad. Eventually he found four wealthy men willing to invest. These men were Leland Stanford (Stanford University is named for his son), Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. The money that these investors made from the railroad was such a huge fortune, that they became known as the Big Four. The Central Pacific Railroad was born. Judah traveled to Washington to ask the Union government to help. His timing was perfect. The Union wanted California to help in the Civil War. Congress helped with Judah's railroad and they also helped a company build from the East toward California. The other railroad was the Union Pacific.
Judah had a problem though. The Big Four wanted the railroad built quickly and cheaply. Judah wanted it built well. In 1863 He decided to travel to the East Coast to find new investors. Unfortunately, Judah never made it. He died of yellow fever while crossing the isthmus of Panama, never seeing his dream become a reality.
With Judah out of the pictures, the Big Four could build the railroad like they wanted to, sometimes laying as much as ten miles of track a day. Many people would not work in the dangerous conditions of the Sierras, so the Big Four needed to find someone that would. They found the Chinese to be diligent workers, so they hired all they could find, even sending to China for more immigrants. The weather was so harsh that the Chinese had to dig into the ground at night to keep from freezing to death. The Chinese were paid the same monetary wage as white workers, but they were not fed like the white workers were. This actually ended up being an unexpected benefit for the Chinese since their diet was much healthier than the often rancid diet the whites were eating.
The Big Four eventually became very unpopular men in California because of the ruthless way they made their money. Time was of the essence since the United States Government was giving land to the railroads based on how much track they laid. The Chinese were not valued as equals, and had most of the more dangerous jobs partly due to their experience with explosives. Often, Chinese lives were not valued by foremen and explosives were deliberately blown before the Chinese workers had time to clear away from the blast.
The two railroad companies met at Promontory Point in Utah in May of 1868. No one thought to invite Theodore Judah's widow to the ceremony. A famous picture was taken that day with workers and management from the Union and Central Pacific. The Chinese, to whom the railroad owed everything for such a timely completion, were excluded from the photo. California was now linked to the rest of the nation.
California offered a lot to the nation. The rich Central Valley eventually became known as the breadbasket of the world. California's mild climate allowed for year-round farming and fruits and vegetables could be grown in California that would grow in very few other places. The Chinese eventually prospered, despite extreme prejudice and jealousy over their success, by growing fruits and vegetables, which were an important part of their diet. The Chinese eventually started their own town in the Central Valley which remains to this day. The town has some descendants of these original Chinese immigrants.
Eventually, the railroads carried California produce to the East. California's exotic produce was in great demand in the East. Ice cars, the precursors to the refrigerated cars of today, began in response to the demand for California produce. Agriculture was responsible for generating great wealth in the state. Agriculture is still a major industry today.