The Railroad and the Tie

Part I.

After reading the essay, “Fueling the Fires of Industrialization,” you already should have a basic understanding of both the expansion of American railroads during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the purpose and importance of the wooden railroad tie. Carefully read the following two paragraphs for more specific information about the railroad and the tie. (Note: All of the numbers below are estimated).

In 1880, sixty million wooden crossties were installed on American railroad tracks. By 1900, that number had increased by forty million. In 1921, records show that eighty-six million crossties were installed, a number that decreased by thirty-nine million in 1936. Most crossties were not treated with chemical preservatives until after 1900. Untreated crossties had to be replaced on average every five to seven years. Properly treated crossties, on the other hand, normally last between thirty and forty years. Statistics show that approximately three thousand crossties were installed per mile of railroad track. Just replacing railroad ties on a sustained basis required between fifteen and twenty million acres of forestland in 1900.

The mileage of U.S. railroads expanded rapidly during the latter-half of the nineteenth century and into the first few decades of the twentieth century. For instance, in 1880 there were 70,000 miles of railroad tracks, but by 1890 the number of miles increased by 84,000, and by 1900 had jumped to 193,000. In 1910, the United States had 240,000 miles of tracks, a number that increased by 10,000 two decades later.

Part II.

Line graphs often are used when depicting changes over time. All graphs contain an “x” and a “y” axis. The “x” axis runs horizontally and the “y” axis runs vertically. Look at the example below to get a better understanding of a line graph.

Part III.

Now that you have learned more about line graphs, you are ready to compose some graphs of your own. Go to Worksheet 4: “Using a Line to Graph History,” and complete as instructed.

Part IV.

Use the line graphs you drew in Worksheet 4, the essay, and the information from this page to answer the 3 questions below.

  1. In the 10-year period between 1900 and 1910, how many new miles of track were built? How many crossties were installed for the tracks built between 1880 and 1940?
  2. In what 10-year period between 1840 and 1930 was the rate of mile of track installed the greatest?
  3. Over time did the miles of railroad track built increase or decrease? Over time did the number of crossties installed increase or decrease? How do you explain the discrepancy?