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Teaching Guide

Teaching Transcontinental Railroad

Take the midnight train to Shmoopville.


Trains used to be more than just something that held up traffic at inconvenient times. They used to be the form of transportation for people, animals, and supplies. The Transcontinental Railroad may have been one of the most ambitious projects in government history—and Shmoop's teaching guide is pretty ambitious, too.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity about corporate scandals, which never get old.
  • lessons on all the factors that came together to create the railroad.
  • historical resources on topics from Chinese labor to what became of all those railroad stations.

And much more.

All aboard!

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

I. Direct your students to this site, where they will open the Special Features tab and then click on "Durant's Big Scam," an essay comparing the Crédit Mobilier scandal of the 1860s with the more recent Enron scandal of the early 2000s.

2. Follow their reading with a discussion surrounding the following questions:

  • How similar were the two scandals?
    • What is self-dealing?
      • Who benefits from it?
      • Who is hurt by it?
  • Why was it easier for the directors of the Crédit Mobilier to engage in these practices?
  • Explain this statement.
    • "We may not have made much progress in learning how to stop self-dealing, but perhaps we've gotten a little better at punishing it."
  • Are these sorts of scandals unavoidable in a capitalist economy?
    • Or can they be eliminated through stronger government oversight?
  • Should we increase regulations, even at the risk of stifling investment and entrepreneurial initiative?
    • Or should we reduce regulations and accept a certain amount of financial misbehavior as an unavoidable price for economic development?

Instructions for Your Students

Financial corruption and corporate dirty-dealing is nothing new. But can it be prevented? Or, taking a different approach, how hard should we try to prevent it? Go to this site, open the Special Features tab, and then click on "Durant's Big Scam." Read the essay comparing the Crédit Mobilier scandal of the 1860s with the more recent Enron scandal and prepare to discuss it in class.


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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