Four passenger car, one wood car and caboose train headed in image down into lower right corner; having just passed through a town in valley.
By the late 1830s, a large waterway and canal system connected the East and West coasts. The canal boom gave way to the development of the American railroad system. By 1840, about 3,000 miles of railroad track had been laid. Railroads were faster, cheaper and had greater range than canals, but spread slowly despite these advantages. Cities that lacked connections to the West through waterways saw the railroad as their opportunity to participate in Western trade. Images such as The Great West showed the vastness of the American frontier, a popular and saleable subject for Currier & Ives lithographs. The title helped to romanticize the idea of westward expansion and to entice people to explore new territories. Currier & Ives often used expressions of praise in the titles of their prints. In 1870, they used the word “great” in as many as nine different works.