As the United States economy industrialized in the 19th century, there were two ways to get goods and people from the east to the other side of the continent: either load huge freight wagons for a rigorous journey over treacherous mountains before reaching the West Coast, or travel by boat around the tip of South America.
Industrialist Leland Stanford is credited for organizing an idea to build a new railroad infrastructure that would connect the still-young nation. So it was that Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads. Work began in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, and on May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah, the "golden spike" was driven connecting the two rail lines.
The connection bridged the 2,000 miles to the Missouri River, and the passage to the West was reduced to just six days.