19th century St. Louis was lucky. Its strategic location along some of "nature's highways," namely the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, turned the region into a center of commerce. By mid century, steamboats had become a dominant form of transportation in the U.S. and St. Louis prospered with their rise. However, as railroads developed elsewhere in the country, the Missouri state legislature recognized the need for railroad construction in their state, and began granting charters for many prospective lines in a "railroad fever."
Among these projects was a railroad that would potentially connect St. Louis to the Pacific Coast. A few visionary St. Louisans, like one of the railroad's first presidents, Thomas Allen, and United States senator Thomas Hart Benton, argued that by connecting St. Louis to the west coast, this railway would build direct commercial links between St. Louis and India, claiming the city a spot on the world stage. The road was given a simple name that reflected their ambitions: "The Pacific Railroad."
In a speech during the railroad's ground-breaking ceremony in July 1851, Edward Bates, a prominent St. Louis lawyer and statesman and later Abraham Lincoln's Attorney General, reflected on the railroad's potential:
"When you have constructed the road to the frontier of Missouri, what power can stop it there? Beyond, lie the extended plains of Missouri and Arkansas, New Mexico, Utah, California, Oregon, the Pacific and the old eastern world. My mind recoils from the magnitude of the contemplation and I leave with the incalculable results to mingle with the future glories of our country's name."