Lesson 26: Could the U.S. Economy Have Grown Without the Railroads?

The students examine data about economic growth and the expansion of railroads in the United States after the Civil War. They assess ways in which the railroads may have contributed to economic growth in agriculture and the industrial sectors of the economy during the post-war years. They assess these contributions, in turn, by reference to the opportunity cost implicit in the economy's turn toward development of a nationwide railroad system.


Economic growth, Gross national product (GNP), Incentives, Labor productivity, Opportunity cost, Specialization, Technological change
National Content Standards in Economics:
  • Standard #4: Incentives
  • Standard #15: Economic Growth