Work on the first transcontinental railroad began after President Abraham Lincoln approved the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, a revolutionary law that allowed federal aid to assist in the payment of the railroad (Western). Due to the American Civil War, work was delayed for several years. "By 1866, however, the great race was on between the Central Pacific Railroad, which was charged with laying track eastward from Sacramento, and the Union Pacific Railroad, which started laying track westward from Omaha, to see which railroad company could lay the most miles of railroad track before the two railroad lines joined up. Because the federal government subsidized at least $16,000 for each mile of railroad laid as well as generous land grants along the track, each company had a strong financial incentive to lay track as quickly as possible" (Harvard).
Many of the Irish Union Pacific workers were, in fact, veterans of the American Civil War from the east coast, enlisted by the Enrollment Act of 1863 (Delehant 1132). Although the 3000 Irish laborers did not suffer the same type of racial injustice while on the railroads, they still were not adequately paid for the dangerous types of work they were doing. They were paid little money to work on a dangerous and mainly unsettled terrain (Harvard). The workers were against the clock to beat other railways to completion, making for very stressful and dangerous conditions.
With the obvious rush to finish the railroads, as stated in our reserach question, many Irish flocked to these types of jobs due to their high demand of work and the Irish's desperate need of income. In crowded New York City, jobs were jobs became more and more difficult to find, especially due to the "No Irish Need Apply" policies that plagued many cities during this time period that specifically discriminated that ethnic group (Barbier 18).
The railroads, however, did not discriminate, and in fact, welcomed immigrants to participate and work for an unfairly cheap payment. Immigrant hands made the idea of a transcontinental railroad even possible and they are the reason that our country flourished during the 19th Century.
"Between 1865 and 1869, the Central Pacific had laid 690 miles of track and the Union Pacific 1,087 miles of track. The meeting of the two railroads and the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, was a major national achievement that could not have occurred without immigrant laborers" (Harvard).
After the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, many immigrants coming to the United States through places such as Ellis Island, where many Irish came, used the railroads as a way to migrate west. In fact, many of the railroad companies promoted the west in order to generate business. Railroads during this time period were a way to increase the population in different parts of the country.
'Twill be long before I get one, tho indeed its hard I try,
For I read in each advertisement, "No Irish need apply."
Alas! for my poor country, which I never will deny,
How they insult us when they write, "No Irish need apply."
Kathleen O'Neill. "No Irish need apply." J. H. Johnson, Stationer & Printer, 7 N. 10th Street, Phila. 1862
Barbier, Marie C., Deschamps B., Prum Routledge-Cavendish, Michel (2007). Racial, Ethnic, and Homophobic Violence: Killing in the Name of Otherness P. 18
"Immigration, Railroads, and the West." Open Collections Program: Immigration to the US,. Harvard University Library.
"Western Trails Project - Railroads and Immigration." Western Trails Project - Railroads and Immigration. Kansas Historical Society