Irish immigrants had a significant influence on the American railways in the Western United States. Due to the Great Famine, the Irish came to America looking for work and the Americans thought of the Irish emigrant as a way of cheap labor and a way to increase the population in the west. By constructing railroads, the American could expand into the west and the Irish had played a major role in the development.
The Americans were sympathetic towards the Irish in the early nineteenth century because they had known about their poor living conditions in Ireland at that time. An example is the article “Irish Immigrants Wanted” written by Niles’ Weekly Register in 1822. By immigrating to the United States, the Irish would be able to obtain permanent relief, by their labor in the prairies and the west, constructing the expanding railroads.
With the end of the Civil War in 1865, the plans of an intercontinental railroad were put in place. The Irish emigrants were the early primary builders of the Central Pacific Railroad, which spanned west to east from Sacramento, California. But because of the threat of avalanches and the threat of dysentery, many workers found it too deterring and walked off the job. Chinese workers were hired instead and they finished the project.
The Irish had also worked on the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska. By 1866, the Union Pacific had ‘managed to import Irishmen from among the thousands of demobilized soldiers living in the teeming cities on the east coast, and eager for work’. By 1869, the two railroads met at Promontory Point, Utah and it drove the Golden Spike. ‘With the completion of the transcontinental railroad many of the Irish workers settled in the west thereby increasing the population of cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle.’
– Talon Couch
- “NJ AOH Division #1.” NJ AOH Division #1 |, njaohdiv1.org/irish-history/irish-railroad-workers/.