When you picture the "westward expansion" of settlers in the United States, a covered wagon may be the first thing to come to mind. Indeed, covered wagons, stage coaches and even boats were used to move people from east to west during the 19th century. However, a major feat of engineering and planning changed all of that for people traveling during the later part of the century.

The Transcontinental Railroad

In the late 1800s, the railroad became the primary mode of transportation for settlers moving to the western territories and states. Plans for a transcontinental railroad started long before the Civil War of the 1860s, but because of the turmoil of the war, the job of laying track and building the railroad wasn't actually completed until May 10, 1869. On that day, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad companies joined their two long stretches of track at Promontory Summit, Utah, beginning a new era of transportation to the west. While still not without danger, riding the rails was easier and faster than other forms of transportation used previously.