When Sioux City first began to grow, most people arrived by either steamboat or stagecoach. In the eastern United States, railroads were being built to connect all major cities. The first railroad to develop in Iowa was in 1865, along the Mississippi. However, plans were soon developed to expand the system to all major Iowa cities.
Sioux City developers knew that if the town wanted to become a major city, it would need to be one of the first to have railroad access. Not only did railroads move people, they also moved materials and manufactured goods.
In the fall of 1866, a large crowd of local business men, bankers, and speculators met with a gentleman named W.W. Walker. He was a representative of John Blair, a wealthy eastern railroad developer. Mr. Blair was planning on building the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad. This railroad would connect the city with the main line which ran through Missouri Valley. This would give the city connections all the way to Chicago and back east. All the city and county had to do was provide free land for the tracks and for the depot. The county agreed to donate the land in February of 1867. The deal was struck.
Thirteen months later with the completion of the bridge over the Floyd River, the first train rumbled into town. The date, March 9, 1868, was the cause of much local celebrating. "SAVED AT LAST!" read the Sioux City Journal headline.
The city was transformed with the arrival. Eastern companies wishing to ship goods to the Dakotas and Montana Territories could now send their wares by train to Sioux City to be then loaded on steamboats bound west. This would save the companies over a thousand miles of travel by steamboat and a sizeable amount of money.
For the next three years the shipping industry in the city helped fuel rapid growth. From a population of 1380 people in 1868 to over 4,000 in 1870, this growth is directly tied with jobs dealing with the shipment and warehousing of goods being shipped to the west.
In 1873 a railroad line was expanded to Yankton, Dakota Territory. Yankton then became the end of the railroad line and much of the business growth Sioux City had gained moved up river. Yankton's gain was short lived. As more railroad lines were built, the use of steamboats began to decline and Yankton lost its place as an important riverboat town.