The Oregon Trail And Its Role In The Development Of The Pacific Northwest

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The historical stop that I’m writing about is how the railroad, particularly Oregon Trail, built the Pacific Northwest. The railroads touched every aspect of people’s lives whether they noticed it or not. For example, it brought them the food they ate, the products they bought for their home, and even their mail, all of these things were shipped to them by rail for quite a while. The railroads were created with the intention of moving people whether it was for settlement, leisure, or commuting to work. Railroads made people’s lives easier simply because it got them where they needed to go at a much faster pace than ever before.

In the mid-19th century, the Pacific Northwest was covered with very dense forests, with lumber perfect not only buildings but ships’ sails. With the creation of railroads, logging became infinitely easier because loggers were no longer limited by having to do it around water so the ships could carry the timber away. Steam engines allowed logs to be hauled from mountains and valleys to mills. As you can imagine, the logging industry exploded exponentially with the power of trains. In the late 1880s, the goal was to see who could find the biggest, best trees to send to the mill. Back then it was a very common thing to see log trains that stretched on for miles with huge piles of lumber in them.

Agriculture also relied on the railroads to get the product where they needed to go. Before a farmer only grew the crops he needed, large scale farming was not practical because there was no way to get the crops to market. Well, now there was, trains. The agricultural business also grew exponentially thanks to trains. Picture it, a rural dairy farmer milking his cows and city dwellers could have it by the end of the day, the same day the cow was milked. The railroads changed the way that Americans ate. Before trains, people mostly ate what was readily available and in season in their immediate community. After railroads, people could have things that weren’t necessarily in season where they lived but were in other parts of the country, this was a new luxury that most people cherished. Do you have a craving for an orange in the middle of winter? Well, thanks to the handy railroads, you won’t have to wait to fulfill your craving until the summer months, you can have it now! The trains also impacted the general stores. Railroads provided a greater variety of the goods that were already there like, fresh food, dry goods, clothing, home goods, firearms, candy, books and alcohol to name a few things. Trains also brought merchandise to the general stores much faster. As an added bonus, customers could also order things out of catalogs. They would place their order by telegram or mail and it would come by rail to the general store closest to your house and you would come to claim it once it arrived.

However, I would say that one of the greatest impacts that trains have had in the Pacific Northwest is that it helped people move to the Northwest. Hundreds of thousands of people moved up here from other parts of the country by train. Previously, the move up here, done by way of the Oregon Trail, was a very long and dangerous trip, but, thanks to trains it was much safer and easier. The journey was now only 2 weeks by way of train as compared to 6 months by way of the Oregon Trail. The railroad allowed people to live outside densely populated towns but still work in the city and get there in a timely manner. Thanks to the railroads, activities both inside and outside of the city were accessible to most people. But, most importantly, now people could travel much more comfortably, before trains people walked, traveled by horse or carriage or boat. 

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