The Westbound Surge

I’ll be writing in another multi-author project next year which will be set in the 1880s. This is very “modern” for me and the research has been fascinating. Up until now, all my books have been either set in Regency era England (1805) or the American Midwest from 1855-1865. With the 1880s comes more technology, more developed towns and cities in the West, as well as opening up the possibility of setting some stories in Canada (where I’m from).

The rapid development of technology spurred the population growth of North America as well as the westward movement of people. The ability to more easily communicate made the expansion of business also possible. And “rapid” transportation meant you could travel all across the continent in less than ten days. In fact, in 1876, the Transcontinental Express from New York to San Francisco made the trip in 83 relaxing, comfortable hours. Imagine! Three and a half days! That really shrank the world for people of that time. Of course, the poor, penniless, mail order bride couldn’t afford that ticket, but even she could reach her new life in a week or less, depending on her destination.

The consolidation and reorganization of the railroads in the late 19th century lead to rapid industrial growth in many areas including the opening of hundreds of millions of acres of very good farm land ready for mechanization, lower costs for food and all goods, and a huge national sales market. Of course, all this growth and prosperity didn’t benefit everyone. While the average annual wage for an industrial worker rose by 48% between 1860 and 1890 (from $380 to $564), there was still abject poverty and inequality leading to contentious social issues. And the ability to travel broadened people’s knowledge and perspective, making them more involved in these various struggles and triumphs.

Railroads were the major growth industry, with the factory system, mining, and finance increasing in importance. Immigration from Europe, and the eastern states, led to the rapid growth of the West, based on farming, ranching, and mining. The rapid economic growth in America also fueled this influx of millions of European immigrants, especially due to the wage increases making the opportunities seem so very attractive to these new comers.

I’m thrilled with the research I’ve been able to do and am overwhelmed with story ideas for this exciting time period in history.

Stay tuned for more book news. In the meantime, have you read my other westerns?

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