Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Transcontinental Railroad

The Transcontinental Railroad

Jean F. Blashfield
For ages 9 to 12
Compass Point Books, 2002   ISBN: 978-0756501532

Until 1869, the only way a person could travel across America from east to west, or vice versa, was to do one of three things: to walk two thousand miles on the Oregon trail; to sail to Central America and walk across the Isthmus of Panama and sail up the western coast of the continent; or to take the six month journey by sea around the tip of South America. All three routes were fraught with danger and took a long time to complete. When the idea of building a transcontinental railroad was first suggested in the 1830’s people laughed. The Mississippi and other rivers would have to be bridged. Tunnels would have to be dug to go through numerous mountains. The whole concept seemed impossible. But by the 1850’s it became clear to people all over the country that such a railroad was needed and somehow it had to be built.

Thankfully a resourceful and driven man called Theodore Judah decided to take on the challenge of getting the railroad built. He got four rich and powerful men (who came to be called the Big Four) to back the venture, and in 1961 the Central Pacific Railroad Company was formed with Judah as the chief engineer. Not long afterwards President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act and thus put the backing of the federal government behind the project.

To speed up the project it was decided that two railroads would be built which would meet at some point in the middle. The Union Pacific would lay track westward and the Central Pacific would lay track eastward. At first work was very slow but after the Civil War ended real progress began to be made and the people of America began to believe that perhaps the transcontinental railroad could be built after all.

This interesting and well researched title will certainly intrigue young readers who did not know about the significance of the transcontinental railroad. They will learn about what it was like to work on the project, who the movers and shakers in the venture were, and much more. With illustrations, maps, and period photographs throughout, this is a title which makes history engaging and meaningful to the children of today.

This title is one of the books in the “We the People” series.