President Grover Cleveland had instructed his executive department heads to search for ways to economize in their domains. The Department of the Interior responded with an investigation of the nation's railroads and their large inventories of western lands.
The federal government had orchestrated massive land grants to railroad developers. Huge blocks of land were given away to motivate construction; in turn, the government would receive bargain rates to ship the mail, soldiers, military equipment and other cargo.
By the mid-1880s, it became apparent that many of the developers had not constructed mileage commensurate with the amount of land granted to them. In the wake of the Cleveland administration inquiry, the railroads were forced to return more than 80 million acres.
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Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69 by Stephen E. Ambrose.
By the 1860s, there were a few powerful men who decided they wanted to see the railroad built and wanted to make a killing in the process. As Congress...