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The advent of railroads during the nineteenth century led to an economic boom in the United States, bringing connections once thought impossible and reducing travel time dramatically. This was brought on by leaders in the railroad industry such as James J. Hill, Charles Crocker, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. These industry pioneers helped establish a sprawling railroad system in the United States that brought many benefits to citizens throughout the country. One example of a leader in the beginning of the railroad industry would be James J. Hill who built an empire for himself, leaving him with the famous nickname of “Empire Builder”. From an early age, he had equipped himself with several skills useful for his future in the steamboat and railroad industry involving math, English, and land surveying in his nine years of formal schooling. He worked in the wholesale industry which introduced him to the wonders of the transportation industry. This led him to work in the steamboat industry and later transition to railroads. According to “The Empire Builder, James J. Hill”, “Hill became quite successful in the steamboat business amassing quite a fortune before the financial panic of 1873 gave him an opportunity to enter the railroad industry with several companies either in ruin or bankruptcy.” He took advantage of this opportunity and purchased several railroads including the Pacific Railroad. He also went on to purchase the bankrupt StP&P with a few other businessmen and proceeded to merge the lines of the StP&P, St. Paul & Pacific, and the First Division which formed the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad. This railroad, after years of management and expansion, was valued at over $25 million dollars after a few years, thirty-four times what it was worth in 1873. Overall, James J. Hill created a major railroad system and profited greatly from so making him a notable railroad industry leader. Charles Crocker, another early supporter of railroads, is remembered as an important leader in the railroad industry who could be credited responsible for the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad itself. Crocker, born in 1822, was the son of a farmer who left formal education to help his father as he struggled to make a living in his profession. Later on, a disagreement led Crocker to leave his family at the age of seventeen, in which he had head west with a few friends and brothers following the California Gold Rush. They decided to set up a business near the mines rather than mining for gold. This successful business idea led the group to move to Sacramento and open a larger store. According to New Perspectives on the West, “By 1854 he was one of the wealthiest men in town and had a strong business relationship with Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Leland Stanford — who together with Crocker came to be known as “The Big Four” for their prominence in California’s stunningly rapid economic development.” Crocker continued to amass wealth and the Big Four began to plan the construction of the Central Pacific railroad. Crocker backed the project financially and managed the construction of the railroad. After a few years, he managed to finish the railroad seven years ahead of the government’s deadline and took on a few more projects. He helped connect San Francisco to Portland, establish and fund the Central Pacific Railroad, and even transformed California, among other accomplishments. Cornelius Vanderbilt, an inspiring railroad tycoon, amassed a large amount of capital from his business ventures involving railroads. Vanderbilt had only been to school for a few years when he left formal education at the age of 11 to begin helping his father in the boating trade. A few years later, he started his own ferry service, which grew until he was able to secure a government contract two years later to move supplies to various military bases in New York. These contracts gave him the funds to build a few ships and enter the maritime industry “officially”. This led to him earning the title of Commodore as he had the largest ship on the Hudson River. At the age of 24, he left his successful ferry business and started working for Thomas Gibbons in the steamboat trade. According to “Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Commodore”, “Through virtually everything Vanderbilt attempted he was quite successful and the steamboat business was no different”. His businesses continued to grow and his wealth amassed and he proceeded to take a new project on. At around the age of 70, he acquired the New York & Harlem Railroad, and renamed it to New York Central & Hudson River Railroad after merging it with other railroads. This railroad gave him a outstanding presence in New York and he continued to expand. His empire continued to grow until he passed away with a fortune of over $100 million, estimated to be worth at around $140 billion dollars in “today’s money”. Overall, the railroad industry brought along many benefits to ordinary people and made a few very rich in the process. It brought trade and travel time down by orders of magnitude and boosted the economy of many areas. This was made possible by leaders in the railroad industry such as James J. Hill, Charles Crocker, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. These pioneers helped establish a sprawling railroad system that spread across the United States and had gained a huge amount of wealth.


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