Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Politics and Promotion Changes the Railroad Brought
Community Dreams

Santa Cruz, California, 1876

It’s a bright May day in 1876 in Santa Cruz, California. You’re in the middle of a celebration: a crowd of citizens comes out to see the Jupiter locomotive delivered. People are celebrating the connection of Santa Cruz to Watsonville, and the national railroad network. A railroad promoter is talking to a local family, a locomotive engineer stands nearby, and the whistle of a train is heard in the background.

View from the exhibition
View from the exhibition

A Railroad Comes to Town

By the 1870s, iron rails ran coast-to-coast, connecting more of the interior of the United States than ever before. Towns and cities now could flourish away from the coasts and waterways that had been America’s main transportation networks. Food and manufactured goods could be distributed nationally. Railroads created new social, political, and economic ties among people spread across thousands of miles. To many Americans, a railroad connection promised new prosperity and new opportunities.

In Santa Cruz, businessmen and politicians fought to bring a railroad to town, dreaming of a boom in industry that would make their city the equal of San Francisco. Many local people invested in the proposed Santa Cruz Railroad, and after years of politicking and financial maneuvers, a 15-mile line was completed in 1876. It connected Santa Cruz to the farming town of Watsonville, which was served by California’s principal railroad, the Southern Pacific.

National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits