Other Transcontinentals

The second great transcontinental project was the Northern Pacific, also a product of congressional land grant. Begun in 1867 and aided after 1869 through the financing of Jay Cooke & Company, the Northern Pacific struggled in 1873 when Cooke's firm failed after 500 miles had been built. Henry Villard, a German-born promoter, obtained control of the Northern Pacific with the help of New York and foreign investors. The road was completed in 1883, by which time the Union Pacific was already extending its network northward into the Pacific Northwest to compete with the new road.

Further competition on the northern route came from James J. Hill, who obtained control of a bankrupt, 200-mile railroad in Minnesota. Although it had no federal land grant, Hill's line had a valuable grant from the state. With that fiscal base, Canadian investors' contributions, and his own entrepreneurship, Hill built his Great Northern Railway (parallel to the Northern Pacific) westward to Seattle in 1893. Hill not only defied the depression of 1893-1897 (when the other transcontinentals all faced receivership), he also obtained control of the Northern Pacific.

A land grant of 1866 established the fiscal base for the Southern Pacific line, which in 1883 completed a direct line between New Orleans and San Fransisco and Los Angeles. The Southern Pacific was owned by the "Big Four" who had controlled the Central Pacific. Again they created a separate construction company to build their line, assuring themselves of a substantial profit.

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe line, also generously aided by a congressional land grant, stood up against strong opposition from the Southern Pacific and reached the Pacific coast with another transcontinental line in 1885 (see map of railroads in the back). From that time, western railroad construction consisted mainly of efforts to broaden the reach of these main lines and increase their connections with Chicago, the Gulf ports, and other distribution centers in the East. Almost all of the lines in the far west, however, had initially built out ahead of demand and had paid high construction costs to because of ghost companies and other questionable practices. They had also aroused public distrust and suspicion with their political tactics and land monopoly games[42].