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The rapid expansion of railroads following the Civil War provided the single most important force for change in the nation and in Arkansas during the Gilded Age. The state’s Republican government and its pro-railroad policies played a major role in local railroad construction.
It was only after the Civil War that the railroads really began to create technologically coherent systems. In 1860 there were 31,286 miles of American railroads, but they could hardly be thought of as a system or even a collection of systems. The main reason was that there was no single standard gauge—the distance between the rails—for tracks.
In the nineteenth century, like today, new technologies changed the way that Americans lived. Then, as now, some people had far more control over technological changes than others. Railroads spurred a long contest over technology—its public purposes and consequences and its private ownership—that is with us still.
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