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Artist's rendering of an early train

Science and Technology Transform a Continent

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On May 10, 1869, a golden spike driven into a wooden crosstie completed an iron road linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. A century later, on July 20, 1969, Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr. became the first humans to walk on the moon. From rails to space travel, the application of new technologies has enabled us to explore places once considered unreachable.
This article explores early railroad expansion in this country and the ways new railroad technologies contributed to the development of the United States, particularly the western states. The activities presented will help students understand how a steam engine works and why stopping a train can be a lengthy proposition. Students will also learn why magnets will figure prominently in future trains, why train derailments can be caused by hot weather, and why, as legend holds, train robbers put their ears to the track to detect oncoming trains. (This practice is not recommended[!], but substitute activities are included.)
Linking these scientific concepts is the story of the "Iron Horse" and the people who devoted their lives to its success.

By Carl Barna, Richard Brook and Elizabeth Rieben
Artwork by Shelly Fischman

Train animated gif