Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

The President of Union Pacific Praises the Railroads

This excerpt from Sidney Dillon's article "The West and the Railroads," from an 1891 issue of The North American Review, credits the railroad with the growth and positive transformation of the American West. The president of the Union Pacific Railway Company, Dillon dismisses criticisms of railroad companies and their fraudulent and unjust practices.

The growth of the United States west of the Alleghenies during the past fifty years is due not so much to free institutions, or climate, or the fertility of the soil, as to railways. If the institutions and climate and soil had been favorable to the development of commonwealths, railways had not been invented, the freedom and natural advantages of our Western States would have beckoned to human immigration and industry in vain. Civilization would have crept slowly on, in a toilsome march over the immense spaces that lie between the Appalachian ranges and the Pacific Ocean; and what we now style the Great West would be, except in the valley of the Mississippi, an unknown and unproductive wilderness.

But although these benefits arising from railway construction are so obvious, no one asserts that railways have been laid from philanthropic motives; and therefore, since among the promoters, contractors, and capitalists who have done the work we find men who have acquired large fortunes, western railroad construction and management in general have been bitterly and frequently attacked by the press, and have been and now are the subject of hostile legislation. Grave charges are made; as for instance, that the roads have in numerous instances been fraudulently over-capitalized and excessively loaded with bonded debt;…that they charge unjust rates of freight in order to pay dividends on fictitious values of stock;…that they permit the accumulation of unreasonably large fortunes, and to use a favorite phrase of demagogic orators, constantly “tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

Source | Sidney Dillon, "The West and the Railroads," The North American Review, April 1891, Volume 152, Issue 413.
Creator | Sidney Dillon
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Sidney Dillon, “The President of Union Pacific Praises the Railroads,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 28, 2023,

Print and Share