First Transcontinental Railroad

First Transcontinental Railroad

Overview

The First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and later as the "Overland Route
Overland Route (Union Pacific Railroad)
The Overland Route was a train route operated jointly by the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad / Southern Pacific Railroad, between Council Bluffs, Iowa / Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco, California over the grade of the First Transcontinental Railroad which had been...

") was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

 and the Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....

 that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Council Bluffs, known until 1852 as Kanesville, Iowathe historic starting point of the Mormon Trail and eventual northernmost anchor town of the other emigrant trailsis a city in and the county seat of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, United States and is on the east bank of the Missouri River across...

/Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska, United States, and is the county seat of Douglas County. It is located in the Midwestern United States on the Missouri River, about 20 miles north of the mouth of the Platte River...

 (via Ogden, Utah
Ogden, Utah
Ogden is a city in Weber County, Utah, United States. Ogden serves as the county seat of Weber County. The population was 82,825 according to the 2010 Census. The city served as a major railway hub through much of its history, and still handles a great deal of freight rail traffic which makes it a...

, and Sacramento, California
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

) with the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 at Oakland, California
Oakland Long Wharf
The Oakland Long Wharf, later known as the Oakland Pier or the SP Mole was a massive railroad wharf and ferry pier in Oakland, California. It was located at the foot of Seventh Street....

 on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

 opposite San Francisco. By linking with the existing railway network of the Eastern United States
Eastern United States
The Eastern United States, the American East, or simply the East is traditionally defined as the states east of the Mississippi River. The first two tiers of states west of the Mississippi have traditionally been considered part of the West, but can be included in the East today; usually in...

, the road thus connected the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 coasts of the United States by rail for the first time.
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The First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and later as the "Overland Route
Overland Route (Union Pacific Railroad)
The Overland Route was a train route operated jointly by the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad / Southern Pacific Railroad, between Council Bluffs, Iowa / Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco, California over the grade of the First Transcontinental Railroad which had been...

") was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

 and the Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....

 that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Council Bluffs, known until 1852 as Kanesville, Iowathe historic starting point of the Mormon Trail and eventual northernmost anchor town of the other emigrant trailsis a city in and the county seat of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, United States and is on the east bank of the Missouri River across...

/Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska, United States, and is the county seat of Douglas County. It is located in the Midwestern United States on the Missouri River, about 20 miles north of the mouth of the Platte River...

 (via Ogden, Utah
Ogden, Utah
Ogden is a city in Weber County, Utah, United States. Ogden serves as the county seat of Weber County. The population was 82,825 according to the 2010 Census. The city served as a major railway hub through much of its history, and still handles a great deal of freight rail traffic which makes it a...

, and Sacramento, California
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

) with the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 at Oakland, California
Oakland Long Wharf
The Oakland Long Wharf, later known as the Oakland Pier or the SP Mole was a massive railroad wharf and ferry pier in Oakland, California. It was located at the foot of Seventh Street....

 on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

 opposite San Francisco. By linking with the existing railway network of the Eastern United States
Eastern United States
The Eastern United States, the American East, or simply the East is traditionally defined as the states east of the Mississippi River. The first two tiers of states west of the Mississippi have traditionally been considered part of the West, but can be included in the East today; usually in...

, the road thus connected the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 coasts of the United States by rail for the first time. The line was popularly known as the Overland Route
Overland Route (Union Pacific Railroad)
The Overland Route was a train route operated jointly by the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad / Southern Pacific Railroad, between Council Bluffs, Iowa / Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco, California over the grade of the First Transcontinental Railroad which had been...

 after the principal passenger rail service that operated over the length of the line through the end of 1962.

The construction and operation of the line was authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Congress supported it with 30-year U.S. government bond
Government bond
A government bond is a bond issued by a national government denominated in the country's own currency. Bonds are debt investments whereby an investor loans a certain amount of money, for a certain amount of time, with a certain interest rate, to a company or country...

s and extensive land grants of government-owned land. Completion of the railroad was the culmination of a decades-long movement to build such a line. It was one of the crowning achievements in the crossing of plains and high mountains westward by the Union Pacific and eastward by the Central Pacific. Opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the "Last Spike"
Golden spike
The "Golden Spike" is the ceremonial final spike driven by Leland Stanford to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory...

 at Promontory Summit, Utah, the road established a mechanized transcontinental transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the American West
American Old West
The American Old West, or the Wild West, comprises the history, geography, people, lore, and cultural expression of life in the Western United States, most often referring to the latter half of the 19th century, between the American Civil War and the end of the century...

.

The Pacific Railroad constituted one of the most significant and ambitious American technological feats of the 19th century following in the footsteps of the building of the Erie Canal
Erie Canal
The Erie Canal is a waterway in New York that runs about from Albany, New York, on the Hudson River to Buffalo, New York, at Lake Erie, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The canal contains 36 locks and encompasses a total elevation differential of...

 in the 1820s and the crossing of the Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama
The Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien, is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal...

 by the Panama Railroad in 1855. It served as a vital link for trade, commerce and travel that joined the eastern and western halves of the late 19th-century United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. The transcontinental railroad slowly ended most of the far slower and more hazardous stagecoach
Stagecoach
A stagecoach is a type of covered wagon for passengers and goods, strongly sprung and drawn by four horses, usually four-in-hand. Widely used before the introduction of railway transport, it made regular trips between stages or stations, which were places of rest provided for stagecoach travelers...

 lines and wagon trains that had preceded it. The railroads led to the decline of traffic on the Oregon
Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail is a historic east-west wagon route that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between.After 1840 steam-powered riverboats and steamboats traversing up and down the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers sped settlement and development in the flat...

 and California Trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

 which had populated much of the west. They provided much faster, safer and cheaper (8 days and about $65 economy) transport east and west for people and goods across half a continent.

The railroads' sales of land-grant lots, and the transport provided for timber and crops, led to the rapid settling of the supposed "Great American Desert
Great American Desert
The term Great American Desert was used in the 19th century to describe the western part of the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains in North America....

". The main workers on the Union Pacific were many Army veterans and Irish immigrants
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

. Most of the engineers and supervisors were Army veterans who had learned their trade keeping the trains running during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. The Central Pacific, facing a labor shortage in the West
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

, relied on mostly Chinese immigrant laborers and were a part of the Coolie
Coolie
Historically, a coolie was a manual labourer or slave from Asia, particularly China, India, and the Phillipines during the 19th century and early 20th century...

 slave trade. They did prodigious work building the line over and through the Sierra Nevada mountains and across Nevada
Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

 to the meeting in Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

.


The railroad was motivated in part to bind the eastern and western states of the United States together. The Central Pacific started work in 1863. Due to competition with the War for workers, rails, ties, railroad engines and supplies, the Union Pacific RR did not start construction until July 1865. Completion of the railroad substantially accelerated populating the West, while contributing to the decline of territory controlled by the Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 in these regions. In 1879, the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 formally established, in its decision regarding Union Pacific Railroad vs. United States (99 U.S. 402), the official "date of completion" of the Transcontinental Railroad as November 6, 1869.

The Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railroad
Southern Pacific Railroad
The Southern Pacific Transportation Company , earlier Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company, and usually simply called the Southern Pacific or Espee, was an American railroad....

 combined operations in 1870 and formally merged in 1885. Union Pacific originally bought the Southern Pacific in 1901, but in 1913 was forced to divest it. In 1996 the Union Pacific acquired the Southern Pacific. Much of the original right-of-way
Right-of-way (railroad)
A right-of-way is a strip of land that is granted, through an easement or other mechanism, for transportation purposes, such as for a trail, driveway, rail line or highway. A right-of-way is reserved for the purposes of maintenance or expansion of existing services with the right-of-way...

 is still in use today and owned by the Union Pacific.

Needing rapid communication, the companies built telegraph lines along the railroad rights of way as the track was laid. The linkage made these lines easier to protect and maintain than the original First Transcontinental Telegraph
First Transcontinental Telegraph
The First Transcontinental Telegraph was a milestone in electrical engineering and in the formation of the United States of America. It served as the only method of near-instantaneous communication between the east and west coasts during the 1860s....

 lines, which went over much of the original routes of the Mormon Trail
Mormon Trail
The Mormon Trail or Mormon Pioneer Trail is the 1,300 mile route that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled from 1846 to 1868...

 and the Central Nevada Route through central Utah and Nevada. They soon superseded the earlier lines, which were mostly abandoned.

Route


The Union Pacific laid 1087 miles (1,749.4 km) of track, starting in Council Bluffs, and continuing across the Missouri River
Missouri River
The Missouri River flows through the central United States, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is the longest river in North America and drains the third largest area, though only the thirteenth largest by discharge. The Missouri's watershed encompasses most of the American Great...

 and through Nebraska (Elkhorn
Elkhorn, Nebraska
Elkhorn was a city in Douglas County, Nebraska, United States and is a present-day neighborhood on the western edge of Omaha. The population was 6,062 at the 2000 census and was estimated by the Census Bureau at 8,192 in 2005...

, now Omaha, Grand Island
Grand Island, Nebraska
Grand Island is a city in and the county seat of Hall County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 48,520 at the 2010 census.Grand Island is home to the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center which is the sole agency responsible for training law enforcement officers throughout the state,...

, North Platte
North Platte, Nebraska
North Platte is a city in and the county seat of Lincoln County, Nebraska, United States. It is located in the southwestern part of the state, along Interstate 80, at the confluence of the North and South Platte Rivers forming the Platte River...

, Ogallala
Ogallala, Nebraska
Ogallala is a city in Keith County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 4,737 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Keith County. In the days of the Nebraska Territory, the city was a stop on the Pony Express and later along the transcontinental railroad...

, Sidney, Nebraska
Sidney, Nebraska
Sidney is a city in Cheyenne County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 6,282 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Cheyenne County.-History:The city was named for Sidney Dillon, a railroad attorney...

), the Colorado Territory
Colorado Territory
The Territory of Colorado was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from February 28, 1861, until August 1, 1876, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Colorado....

 (Julesburg
Julesburg, Colorado
The historic town of Julesburg is a statutory town that is the county seat of Sedgwick County, Colorado, United States. The town is located on the north side of the South Platte River. The population was 1,467 at the U.S. Census 2000...

), the Wyoming Territory
Wyoming Territory
The Territory of Wyoming was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 25, 1868, until July 10, 1890, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Wyoming. Cheyenne was the territorial capital...

 (Cheyenne
Cheyenne, Wyoming
Cheyenne is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Wyoming and the county seat of Laramie County. It is the principal city of the Cheyenne, Wyoming, Metropolitan Statistical Area which encompasses all of Laramie County. The population is 59,466 at the 2010 census. Cheyenne is the...

, Laramie
Laramie, Wyoming
Laramie is a city in and the county seat of Albany County, Wyoming, United States. The population was 30,816 at the . Located on the Laramie River in southeastern Wyoming, the city is west of Cheyenne, at the junction of Interstate 80 and U.S. Route 287....

, Green River
Green River, Wyoming
Green River is a city in and the county seat of Sweetwater County, Wyoming, United States, in the southwestern part of the state. The population was 11,808 at the 2000 census....

, Evanston
Evanston, Wyoming
Evanston is a city in Uinta County, Wyoming, United States. The population was 12,359 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Uinta County.-Geography:Evanston is located at...

), the Utah Territory
Utah Territory
The Territory of Utah was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 4, 1896, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Utah....

 (Ogden
Ogden, Utah
Ogden is a city in Weber County, Utah, United States. Ogden serves as the county seat of Weber County. The population was 82,825 according to the 2010 Census. The city served as a major railway hub through much of its history, and still handles a great deal of freight rail traffic which makes it a...

, Brigham City
Brigham City, Utah
Brigham City is a city in Box Elder County, Utah, United States. The population was 17,899 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Box Elder County. It lies on the western slope of the Wellsville Mountains, a branch of the Wasatch Range at the western terminus of Box Elder Canyon...

, Corinne
Corinne, Utah
Corinne is a city in Box Elder County, Utah, United States. The population was 685 at the 2010 census.-Geography:Corinne is located at ....

), and connecting with the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit. The route did not pass through the two biggest cities in the Great American Desert
Great American Desert
The term Great American Desert was used in the 19th century to describe the western part of the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains in North America....

Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado
The City and County of Denver is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is a consolidated city-county, located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains...

, and Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Utah. The name of the city is often shortened to Salt Lake or SLC. With a population of 186,440 as of the 2010 Census, the city lies in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, which has a total population of 1,124,197...

. Feeder lines were built to service the two cities.

The Central Pacific laid 690 miles (1,100 km) of track, starting in Sacramento, California, and continuing over the Sierra Nevada mountains into Nevada. It passed through Newcastle, California
Newcastle, California
Newcastle is an unincorporated town and census-designated place in Placer County, California. Newcastle is located northeast of Rocklin....

 and Truckee, California
Truckee, California
Truckee is an incorporated town in Nevada County, California, United States. The population was 16,180 at the 2010 census, up from 13,864 at the 2000 census.-Name:...

, Reno, Nevada
Reno, Nevada
Reno is the county seat of Washoe County, Nevada, United States. The city has a population of about 220,500 and is the most populous Nevada city outside of the Las Vegas metropolitan area...

, Wadsworth
Wadsworth, Nevada
Wadsworth is a census-designated place in Washoe County, Nevada, United States. The population was 881 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Reno–Sparks Metropolitan Statistical Area. The town was named for General James S. Wadsworth, a Civil War general killed at the battle of the...

, Winnemucca
Winnemucca, Nevada
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 7,174 people, 2,736 households, and 1,824 families residing in the city. The population density was 867.5 people per square mile . There were 3,280 housing units at an average density of 396.6 per square mile...

, Battle Mountain
Battle Mountain, Nevada
Battle Mountain is an unincorporated community and census-designated place in Lander County, Nevada, United States. The population was 2,871 at the 2000 census. Though it has no legal status as a municipality, it still functions as the county seat of Lander County...

, Elko
Elko, Nevada
Elko is a city in Elko County, Nevada, United States. The population was 18,297 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Elko County. The city straddles the Humboldt River....

, and Wells, Nevada
Wells, Nevada
Wells is a city in Elko County, in northeast Nevada in the western United States. The population was 1,346 at the 2000 census. Wells is located at the junction of U.S. Route 93 and Interstate 80, approximately east of Elko and is part of the Elko Micropolitan Statistical Area.-History:The site...

, before connecting with the Union Pacific line at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory. Later, the western part of the route was extended to the Alameda Terminal
Alameda Terminal
Alameda Terminal was a railroad station located in Alameda, California on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.It was built in 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad as part of the First Transcontinental Railroad project and was designated the western terminus of the line.The Pacific Railroad Act...

 in Alameda, California
Alameda, California
Alameda is a city in Alameda County, California, United States. It is located on Alameda Island and Bay Farm Island, and is adjacent to Oakland in the San Francisco Bay. The Bay Farm Island portion of the city is adjacent to the Oakland International Airport. At the 2010 census, the city had a...

, and shortly thereafter, to the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point in Oakland, California
Oakland, California
Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724...

. When the eastern end of the CPRR was extended to Ogden, it ended the short period of a boom town for Promontory
Promontory, Utah
Promontory in Box Elder County, Utah, United States, is notable as the location of Promontory Summit where the United States' Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed on May 10, 1869....

. Before the CPRR was completed, developers were building other railroads in Nevada and California to connect to it.

At first, the Union Pacific was not directly connected to the Eastern U.S. rail network. Instead, trains had to be ferried across the Missouri River. In 1869 the Hannibal Bridge
Hannibal Bridge
The First Hannibal Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River and was to establish Kansas City, Missouri as a major city and rail center....

 at Kansas City
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and is the anchor city of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri. It encompasses in parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties...

 was built and allowed connection to the Kansas Pacific Railway
Kansas Pacific Railway
The Kansas Pacific Railway was a historic railroad company that operated in the western United States in the late 19th century. It was a federally chartered railroad, backed with government land grants. It operated many of the first long-distance lines in the state of Kansas in the 1870s,...

. The Kansas Pacific then linked with the Denver Pacific Railway
Denver Pacific Railway
The Denver Pacific Railway was a historic railroad that operated in the western United States during the late 19th century.Formed in 1867 in the Colorado Territory, the company operated lines in Colorado and present-day southeastern Wyoming in the 1870s until merging with the Kansas Pacific and...

 via Denver to Cheyenne in 1870. In 1873, the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge is a rail truss bridge across the Missouri River connecting Council Bluffs, Iowa with Omaha, Nebraska.-History:...

 opened and directly connected the Union Pacific mainline to the East.

Modern-day Interstate 80
Interstate 80
Interstate 80 is the second-longest Interstate Highway in the United States, following Interstate 90. It is a transcontinental artery running from downtown San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey in the New York City Metropolitan Area...

 closely follows the path of the railroad, with one exception. Between Echo, Utah
Echo, Utah
Echo is a census-designated place located in Summit County, Utah, United States. The population was 56 at the 2010 census. Although Echo has never had a sizable population, the town is historically significant.-History:...

 and Wells, Nevada, Interstate 80 passes through the larger Salt Lake City and passes along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake
Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake, located in the northern part of the U.S. state of Utah, is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere, the fourth-largest terminal lake in the world. In an average year the lake covers an area of around , but the lake's size fluctuates substantially due to its...

. The Railroad had blasted and tunneled its way down the Weber River
Weber River
The Weber River is a c. long river of northern Utah, USA. It begins in the northwest of the Uinta Mountains and empties into the Great Salt Lake. The Weber River was named for American fur trapper John Henry Weber.-Weber River:...

 canyon to Ogden and around the north shore of the Great Salt Lake (roughly paralleling modern Interstate 84 and State Route 30
Utah State Route 30
State Route 30 is a state highway in the U.S. state of Utah. It is the only highway signed as a Utah state route to traverse the entire width of the state. Legislatively the highway exists as 3 separate segments. The three sections are easily connectable via Interstate 84 and U.S. Route 89...

). While routing the railroad along the Weber River, Mormon workers signed the Thousand Mile Tree
Thousand Mile Tree
Thousand Mile Tree is a pine tree located in Weber Canyon near the community of Henefer, Utah, along the Overland Route of the Union Pacific Railroad...

, to commemorate the milestone. A historic marker has been placed there. The portion of the railroad around the north shore of the lake is no longer intact. In 1904, the Lucin Cutoff
Lucin Cutoff
The Lucin Cutoff is a railroad line which included a railroad trestle which crossed the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Built by the Southern Pacific Company between February 1902 and March 1904 across Promontory Point, it bypassed the original Central Pacific Railroad route through Promontory Summit...

, a causeway across the center of the Great Salt Lake, shortened the route by approximately 43 miles (69.2 km), traversing Promontory Point
Promontory Point, Utah
Promontory Point, Utah, is the southernmost edge of the Promontory Mountains in southern Box Elder County, Utah, centered approximately at , with an elevation of 1285 meters above sea level...

 instead of Promontory Summit.

History



Asa Whitney


Talk of a transcontinental railroad started in 1830, shortly after steam powered
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

  railroads
History of rail transport
The history of rail transport dates back nearly 500 years and includes systems with man or horse power and rails of wood or stone. Modern rail transport systems first appeared in England in the 1820s...

 were invented in Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 and began to be introduced into the United States. This talk intensified as railroad technology advanced and the Oregon Territory
Oregon Territory
The Territory of Oregon was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from August 14, 1848, until February 14, 1859, when the southwestern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Oregon. Originally claimed by several countries , the region was...

 and California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 were added to United States Territory in 1846 and 1848. Early debates were not so much over whether it would be built, but how it would be paid for and what route it should follow:
  • "central route", to avoid the worst of the Rocky Mountains
    Rocky Mountains
    The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

     by following the Platte River
    Platte River
    The Platte River is a major river in the state of Nebraska and is about long. Measured to its farthest source via its tributary the North Platte River, it flows for over . The Platte River is a tributary of the Missouri River, which in turn is a tributary of the Mississippi River which flows to...

     in Nebraska
    Nebraska
    Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

     and the South Pass
    South Pass
    South Pass is two mountain passes on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Wyoming. The passes are located in a broad low region, 35 miles broad, between the Wind River Range to the north and the Oregon Buttes and Great Divide Basin to the south, in southwestern Fremont...

     in Wyoming
    Wyoming
    Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

    , much of the path of the Oregon Trail
    Oregon Trail
    The Oregon Trail is a historic east-west wagon route that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between.After 1840 steam-powered riverboats and steamboats traversing up and down the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers sped settlement and development in the flat...

    , or

  • "southern route", to avoid the barrier of the Rockies by going across Texas
    Texas
    Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

    , New Mexico Territory
    New Mexico Territory
    thumb|right|240px|Proposed boundaries for State of New Mexico, 1850The Territory of New Mexico was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 6, 1912, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of...

    , across the Sonora desert and on to Los Angeles, California
    Los Angeles, California
    Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

    .


Initially, a "northern route", roughly following the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, or ″Corps of Discovery Expedition" was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William...

 along the Missouri River
Missouri River
The Missouri River flows through the central United States, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is the longest river in North America and drains the third largest area, though only the thirteenth largest by discharge. The Missouri's watershed encompasses most of the American Great...

 through present-day northern Montana
Montana
Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller, "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name,...

 to Oregon Territory
Oregon Territory
The Territory of Oregon was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from August 14, 1848, until February 14, 1859, when the southwestern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Oregon. Originally claimed by several countries , the region was...

, was considered impractical because of high winter snows.

One of the most prominent champions of the central route railroad was Asa Whitney
Asa Whitney
Asa Whitney was an American merchant and great railroad promoter. Whitney lived in New Rochelle, New York, just to the north of New York City where he was a highly successful dry-goods merchant....

 (a distant cousin to cotton gin
Cotton gin
A cotton gin is a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibers from their seeds, a job formerly performed painstakingly by hand...

 inventor Eli Whitney
Eli Whitney
Eli Whitney was an American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin. This was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shaped the economy of the Antebellum South...

). Whitney envisioned a route from Chicago and the Great Lakes to northern California, paid for by the sale of land to settlers along the route.

In June 1845 Whitney led a team along part of the proposed route to assess its feasibility. Whitney traveled widely to solicit support from businessmen and politicians, printed maps and pamphlets, and submitted several proposals to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

, all at his own expense. Legislation to begin construction of the Pacific Railroad (called the Memorial of Asa Whitney) was first introduced to Congress by Representative Zadock Pratt
Zadock Pratt
Zadock Pratt Jr. was a tanner, banker, soldier, and member of the United States House of Representatives...

. Congress did not act on Whitney's proposal.

The Oregon Question was settled in 1846 when the United States and Great Britain agreed to a Canadian–U.S. boundary at the 49th parallel. US forces took over California in 1846, which came under formal United States control in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is the peace treaty, largely dictated by the United States to the interim government of a militarily occupied Mexico City, that ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848...

 at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. The discovery of gold in California in January 1848 set off the California Gold Rush
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...

, and the number of settlers going to California skyrocketed. By 1850 California had enough settlers arriving by the California Trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

 and by sea to become the 31st state.

Whitney saw a version of the central route completed, although he was not formally involved.
The southern route and the Gadsden Purchase

Concerns lingered that snow would make the central route to California impractical. A survey after 1848 indicated that the best route for a southern route had been overlooked when the US accepted a boundary proposed by Mexico in their peace treaty. With Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, known as "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government...

 in power in Mexico, the US in 1853 made the Gadsden Purchase
Gadsden Purchase
The Gadsden Purchase is a region of present-day southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico that was purchased by the United States in a treaty signed by James Gadsden, the American ambassador to Mexico at the time, on December 30, 1853. It was then ratified, with changes, by the U.S...

, acquiring the southern portions of what is now New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

 and Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

 for $10,000,000. The southern route could now be built entirely within U.S. territory.

Because the US Congress was divided between slave and non-slave state members, it could not reach agreement on supporting construction of a particular route. Each region wanted the railroad because of its benefits. The decision became embroiled in the divisive sectional dispute that eventually turned into the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. The southern route was not constructed until 1880, when the Southern Pacific Railroad
Southern Pacific Railroad
The Southern Pacific Transportation Company , earlier Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company, and usually simply called the Southern Pacific or Espee, was an American railroad....

 crossed Arizona territory
Arizona Territory
The Territory of Arizona was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from February 24, 1863 until February 14, 1912, when it was admitted to the Union as the 48th state....

.

Theodore Judah


The next big champion of the central route was Theodore Judah
Theodore Judah
Theodore Dehone Judah was an American railroad engineer who dreamed of the first Transcontinental Railroad. He found investors for what became the Central Pacific Railroad...

. Judah undertook to survey and plan a way through what was one of the chief obstacles of a central route to California: a way over the high and rugged Sierra Nevada mountains.

Judah was chief engineer for the newly formed Sacramento Valley Railroad in 1852, the first railroad built west of the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

. Although the railroad was to go bankrupt, he was convinced that a properly financed railroad could pass from Sacramento
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

 through the Sierra Nevada mountains to reach the Great Basin
Great Basin
The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America and is noted for its arid conditions and Basin and Range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than away at the...

 and hook up with rail lines coming from the East.

In 1856 Judah wrote a 13,000-word proposal in support of a Pacific railroad and distributed it to Cabinet secretaries, congressmen, and other influential people. In September 1859, Judah was chosen to be the accredited lobbyist for the Pacific Railroad Convention. The convention approved his plan to survey, finance, and engineer the road. Judah returned to Washington in December 1859. He had a lobbying office in the United States Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

, received an audience with President James Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

, and represented the Convention before Congress.

In February 1860 Iowa
Iowa
Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland". It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New...

 Representative Samuel Curtis
Samuel Curtis
Samuel Ryan Curtis was an American military officer, and one of the first Republicans elected to Congress. He was most famous for his role as a Union Army general the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War.-Biography:Born near Champlain, New York, Curtis graduated from the United...

 introduced a bill to build the railroad. It passed the House
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 but died when it could not be reconciled with the Senate version.

Judah returned to California in 1860. He continued to search for a more practical route through the Sierras suitable for a railroad. In the summer of 1860, a local miner, Daniel Strong, had surveyed a route over the Sierras for a wagon toll road, a route he realized would also suit a railroad. He described his discovery in a letter to Judah. Together they formed an association to solicit subscriptions from local merchants and businessmen to support their proposed railroad.

From January or February 1861 until July, Judah and Strong led a 10-person expedition to survey the route for the railroad over the Sierra Nevada, through Clipper Gap, Emigrant Gap
Emigrant Gap
Emigrant Gap is a gap in a ridge on the California Trail as it crosses the Sierra Nevada, to the west of what is now known as Donner Pass. Here the cliffs are so steep that, back in the 1840s, the pioneers on their way to California had to lower their wagons on ropes in order to continue.The...

, Donner Pass
Donner Pass
Donner Pass is a mountain pass in the northern Sierra Nevada, located above Donner Lake about nine miles west of Truckee, California. It has a steep approach from the east and a gradual approach from the west....

, and south to Truckee
Truckee, California
Truckee is an incorporated town in Nevada County, California, United States. The population was 16,180 at the 2010 census, up from 13,864 at the 2000 census.-Name:...

. They discovered a way across the Sierras that was gradual enough to be made suitable (with much work) for a railroad.

Before major construction could begin, Judah traveled back to New York City to raise funds to buy out The Big Four. Shortly after he arrived in New York, however, Judah died on November 2, 1863. He had contracted yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

 while traveling over the Panama Railroad's transit of the Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama
The Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien, is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal...

. The CPRR Engineering Department was taken over by Samuel S. Montegue as his successor as Chief Engineer, and Chief Assistant Engineer (later Acting Chief Engineer) Lewis Metzler Clement
Clement Junction, California
Clement Junction, CA is a populated place located in Los Angeles County, California, at latitude 34º00'50" N and longitude 118º14'20" W, and appears as a named place on the U.S...

 who also became Superintendent of Track.

The Big Four and Central Pacific Railroad

Main articles: The Big Four and Central Pacific Railroad
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...



Collis Huntington, a hardware
Hardware
Hardware is a general term for equipment such as keys, locks, hinges, latches, handles, wire, chains, plumbing supplies, tools, utensils, cutlery and machine parts. Household hardware is typically sold in hardware stores....

 merchant, heard Judah's presentation about the railroad at the St. Charles Hotel in Sacramento in November 1860. He invited Judah to his office to hear his proposal in detail. Huntington changed Judah's strategy of finding several investors and instead sought to raise the money from three partners: Mark Hopkins, his business partner; James Bailey, a jeweler; Leland Stanford
Leland Stanford
Amasa Leland Stanford was an American tycoon, industrialist, robber baron, politician and founder of Stanford University.-Early years:...

, a grocer, future governor of California
Governor of California
The Governor of California is the chief executive of the California state government, whose responsibilities include making annual State of the State addresses to the California State Legislature, submitting the budget, and ensuring that state laws are enforced...

, and founder of Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

; and Charles Crocker
Charles Crocker
Charles Crocker was an American railroad executive.-Early years:Crocker was born in Troy, New York, to a modest family and moved to an Indiana farm at age 14. He soon became independent, working on several farms, a sawmill, and at an iron forge. In 1845 he founded a small, independent iron...

, a dry-goods merchant and eventual owner of Crocker Banks. They initially invested $1,500 each and formed a board of directors: The investors became known as The Big Four and their railroad was called the Central Pacific Railroad
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

. Each were eventually to make millions of dollars off their continuing investments and control of the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR).

Pacific Railroad Act


The Pony Express
Pony Express
The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the High Sierra from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, from April 3, 1860 to October 1861...

 from 1860 to 1861 was to prove that the Central Nevada Route across Nevada and Utah and the sections of the Oregon Trail
Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail is a historic east-west wagon route that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between.After 1840 steam-powered riverboats and steamboats traversing up and down the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers sped settlement and development in the flat...

 across Wyoming and Nebraska was viable during the winter. With the American Civil War raging and a secessionist movement in California gaining steam, the apparent need for the railroad became more urgent.

In 1861 Curtis again introduced a bill to establish the railroad, but it did not pass. After the secession of the southern states, the House of Representatives on May 6, 1862, and the Senate on June 20 finally approved it. Lincoln signed it into law on July 1. The act established the two main lines—the Central Pacific
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

 from the west and the Union Pacific from the mid-west. Other rail lines were encouraged to build feeder lines.

Each was required to build only 50 miles (80 km) in the first year; after that, only 50 miles (80 km) more were required each year. Each railroad received $16,000 per mile ($9,940/km) built over an easy grade, $32,000 per mile ($19,880/km) in the high plains, and $48,000 per mile ($29,830/km) in the mountains. This payment was in the form of government bonds that the companies could resell. To allow the railroads to raise additional money Congress provided additional assistance to the railroad companies in the form of land grants of federal lands. They were granted right-of-ways of 400 feet (121.9 m) plus 10 square miles (26 km²) of land (ten sections) adjacent to the track for every mile of track built. To avoid a railroad monopoly on good land, the land was not given away in a continuous swath but in a "checkerboard" pattern leaving federal land in between that could be purchased from the government. The land grant railroads, receiving millions of acres of public land, sold bonds based on the value of the lands, sold the land to settlers, used the money to build their railroads, and contributed to a rapid settlement of the West. The total area of the land grants to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific was even larger than the area of the state of Texas: federal government land grants totaled about 5,261,000,000 square meters and state government land grants totaled about 1,983,000,000 square meters. The race was on to see which railroad company could build the longest section of track and receive the most land and government bonds.

The bonds and land grants have been frequently characterised as a government subsidy. However, historian Stephen Ambrose
Stephen Ambrose
Stephen Edward Ambrose was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He was a long time professor of history at the University of New Orleans and the author of many best selling volumes of American popular history...

 has argued against this since the companies repaid both the capital and interest. He also argues that although the companies were able to sell the land grants in the Sacramento Valley and Nebraska at "a good price", most of the land in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada was "virtually worthless".

Eastern Terminus



Once it was decided that the railroad would follow the central route rather than the southern route, there was little question that the western terminus would be Sacramento. However, there was considerable intrigue over the eastern terminus.

The three prime candidates for the eastern terminus on 250 miles (402.3 km) of Missouri River between Kansas City and Omaha were:
  • Council Bluffs/Omaha proposed by Thomas C. Durant
    Thomas C. Durant
    Thomas Clark Durant, was an American financier and railroad promoter. He was vice-president of the Union Pacific in 1869 when it met with the Central Pacific railroad at Promontory Summit in Utah Territory...

     via an extension of his proposed Mississippi and Missouri Railroad
    Mississippi and Missouri Railroad
    The Mississippi and Missouri Railroad was the first railroad in Iowa and was chartered in 1853 to build a line between Davenport, Iowa on the Mississippi River and Council Bluffs, Iowa on the Missouri River and was to play an important role in the construction of the First Transcontinental...

     via the new Union Pacific Railroad
    Union Pacific Railroad
    The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....

    .
  • St. Joseph, Missouri via the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad
    Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad
    The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was the first railroad to cross Missouri starting in Hannibal in the northeast and going to St. Joseph, Missouri, in the northwest...

     (H&SJ).
  • Kansas City, Kansas
    Kansas City, Kansas
    Kansas City is the third-largest city in the state of Kansas and is the county seat of Wyandotte County. It is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, and is the third largest city in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. The city is part of a consolidated city-county government known as the "Unified...

    /Leavenworth, Kansas
    Leavenworth, Kansas
    Leavenworth is the largest city and county seat of Leavenworth County, in the U.S. state of Kansas and within the Kansas City, Missouri Metropolitan Area. Located in the northeast portion of the state, it is on the west bank of the Missouri River. As of the 2010 census, the city population was...

     via the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad (LP&W) (later called the Kansas Pacific) controlled initially by Thomas Ewing, Jr.
    Thomas Ewing, Jr.
    Thomas Ewing, Jr. was an attorney, the first chief justice of Kansas and leading free state advocate, Union Army general during the American Civil War, and two-term United States Congressman from Ohio, 1877-1881. He narrowly lost the 1880 campaign for Ohio Governor.-Early life and career:Ewing...

     and later by John C. Fremont
    John C. Frémont
    John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

    .


The principal advantages of Council Bluffs/Omaha were that it was well north of the Civil War fighting taking place in Missouri, was the shortest route to South Pass break in the Rockies in Wyoming, and would follow a fertile river that would encourage settlement. Missouri's advantages included that it had the only railroad to actually reach the Missouri River on its western border (H&SJ), was more centrally located for lines coming up from Texas and could offer a route servicing Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado
The City and County of Denver is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is a consolidated city-county, located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains...

, the biggest city in the Great American Desert
Great American Desert
The term Great American Desert was used in the 19th century to describe the western part of the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains in North America....

. In 1862 the closest rail lines to Omaha/Council Bluffs were 150 miles (241.4 km) away and would take five years to reach Omaha.

Thomas C. Durant who was building the cross-Iowa railroad (the M&M) was literally banking that the Omaha route would be chosen and began buying up land in Nebraska.

In 1857, Durant hired private citizen Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 to represent the M&M in litigation brought by steamboat operators to dismantle Government Bridge, the first bridge across the Mississippi River. The bridge prevented steamboats from passing underneath and was an obstruction of a public waterway. In August 1859 Lincoln at the behest of M&M attorney Norman Judd traveled to Council Bluffs to inspect M&M facilities that were to be used to secure a $3,000 loan Lincoln was to hold. On the visit Lincoln rode the SJ&H railroad and visited railroad locations in Missouri and Kansas before going to Council Bluffs. During the visit Lincoln was to spend 2 hours with M&M engineer Grenville M. Dodge
Grenville M. Dodge
Grenville Mellen Dodge was a Union army officer on the frontier and during the Civil War, a U.S. Congressman, businessman, and railroad executive who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad....

 at the Pacific House Hotel discussing the merits of starting the railroad in Council Bluffs and was to visit Cemetery Hill there to look over the proposed route.

Lincoln's ties to Council Bluffs were furthered strengthened by the fact that he had won the 1860 Republican nomination on the third ballot when the Iowa
Iowa
Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland". It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New...

 delegation switched its vote to him. In contrast, Lincoln was to get only 10 percent of the Missouri vote in the 1860 Presidential Election
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...

.

While the Pacific Railroad Act was to award the eastern contract to the newly formed Union Pacific, it was left up to then President Lincoln to formally choose the location for the railroad to start and Lincoln in 1862 was to follow the advice of his former client.

The H&SJ and LP&W were not totally shut out of the contract though. The H&SJ was to be allowed to build a feeder line from Atchison, Kansas
Atchison, Kansas
Atchison is a city situated along the Missouri River in the eastern part of Atchison County, located in northeast Kansas, in the Central United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 11,021. It is the county seat and most populous city of Atchison County...

, while the LP&W could build a feeder line out of Kansas City, Kansas
Kansas City, Kansas
Kansas City is the third-largest city in the state of Kansas and is the county seat of Wyandotte County. It is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, and is the third largest city in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. The city is part of a consolidated city-county government known as the "Unified...

. The feeder lines were supposed to meet the Union Pacific main line somewhere around the 100th meridian west
100th meridian west
The meridian 100° west of Greenwich is a line of longitude that extends from the North Pole across the Arctic Ocean, North America, the Pacific Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and Antarctica to the South Pole....

 in central Nebraska and the feeder lines were to get the same land grant incentives as the Union Pacific.

Thomas Durant and the Union Pacific


Main articles: Thomas C. Durant
Thomas C. Durant
Thomas Clark Durant, was an American financier and railroad promoter. He was vice-president of the Union Pacific in 1869 when it met with the Central Pacific railroad at Promontory Summit in Utah Territory...

 and Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....



In contrast to the relatively straightforward arrangements for the Central Pacific, the Union Pacific which was to ultimately build nearly 2/3 of the track was to be mired in controversy and scandals while its controlling partner Thomas C. Durant got rich as he took advantage of lax or non-existent government oversight during the Civil War.

The enabling legislation for the Union Pacific required that no partner was to own more than 10 percent of the stock. However, the Union Pacific had problems selling its stock. Durant enticed investors with a scheme where he would put up the money for the stock if they would just put their names on it. Then Durant wound up taking the stock from the investors and was to end up controlling about half the stock of the railroad.

The initial construction of railroad went over land that Durant owned around Omaha. Being paid by the mile, the railroad built oxbows of extraneous track never venturing further than 40 miles (64.4 km) from Omaha in the railroad's first 2½ years.

Durant manipulated market prices on his stocks by spreading rumours about which railroads were to be connected to the Union Pacific. First he ran up the stock of his M&M Railroad while secretly buying stock in the depressed Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad
Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad
The Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad was a railroad chartered to run from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Council Bluffs, Iowa on the Missouri River. It was the first railroad to reach Council Bluffs, Iowa, the eastern terminus of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The city of Ames, Iowa was created as...

 (CR&M), then running up CR&M stock with new plans to connect the Union Pacific to it at which point he began buying back the M&M stock at depressed prices. The gambit is estimated to have raised $5 million for his cohorts and him.

Durant was to keep a low public profile in his machinations as he was only a vice president. He was to install a series of respected men such as John Adams Dix
John Adams Dix
John Adams Dix was an American politician from New York. He served as Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Senator, and the 24th Governor of New York. He was also a Union major general during the Civil War.-Early life and career:...

 as president of the railroad.

On July 4, 1865, the Union Pacific had not gone further than 40 miles (64.4 km) from Omaha—even as the Central Pacific had been working away for 2½ years. With the end of the Civil War and increased government supervision in the offing, Durant hired his former M&M engineer Grenville M. Dodge
Grenville M. Dodge
Grenville Mellen Dodge was a Union army officer on the frontier and during the Civil War, a U.S. Congressman, businessman, and railroad executive who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad....

 to build the railroad and the Union Pacific began a mad dash.

Construction



Because of the nature of the way money was given to the companies building the railroad, they were sometimes known to sabotage each others railroads to claim that land as their own. When they first came close to meeting, they changed paths to be nearly parallel, so that each company could claim subsidies from the government over the same plot of land. Fed up with the fighting, Congress eventually declared where and when the railways should meet. Survey teams closely followed by work crews from each railroad passed each other, eager to lay as much track as possible. The leading Central Pacific road crew set a record by laying 10 mi (16.1 km) of track in a single day, commemorating the event with a signpost beside the track for passing trains to see.

Laborers


The majority of the Union Pacific track was built by Irish
Navvy
Navvy is a shorter form of navigator or navigational engineer and is particularly applied to describe the manual labourers working on major civil engineering projects...

 laborer
Laborer
A Laborer or labourer - see variation in english spelling - is one of the construction trades, traditionally considered unskilled manual labor, as opposed to skilled labor. In the division of labor, laborers have all blasting, hand tools, power tools, air tools, and small heavy equipment, and act...

s, and veterans of both the Union and Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 armies. Brigham Young
Brigham Young
Brigham Young was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the Western United States. He was the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877, he founded Salt Lake City, and he served as the first governor of the Utah...

, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wished to see the railroad support emigration and the population centers in Ogden
Ogden, Utah
Ogden is a city in Weber County, Utah, United States. Ogden serves as the county seat of Weber County. The population was 82,825 according to the 2010 Census. The city served as a major railway hub through much of its history, and still handles a great deal of freight rail traffic which makes it a...

 and Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Utah. The name of the city is often shortened to Salt Lake or SLC. With a population of 186,440 as of the 2010 Census, the city lies in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, which has a total population of 1,124,197...

. As the track approached Utah Territory, he sought a labor contract with the Union Pacific. Under this completed contract, workgangs made up almost entirely of Mormons
Mormons
The Mormons are a religious and cultural group related to Mormonism, a religion started by Joseph Smith during the American Second Great Awakening. A vast majority of Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while a minority are members of other independent churches....

 built much of the Union Pacific track in the Utah territory including the difficult section requiring extensive blasting and tunneling through the Weber River
Weber River
The Weber River is a c. long river of northern Utah, USA. It begins in the northwest of the Uinta Mountains and empties into the Great Salt Lake. The Weber River was named for American fur trapper John Henry Weber.-Weber River:...

 canyon. (Allen and Leonard, pp. 328–329)
The Central Pacific's grade was constructed primarily by many thousands of emigrant workers from China
Chinese immigration to the United States
Chinese American history is the history of Chinese Americans or the history of ethnic Chinese in the United States. Chinese immigration to the U.S. consisted of three major waves, with the first beginning in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century worked as laborers, particularly...

 who were commonly referred to at the time as "Celestials
Celestial (Chinese)
Celestial was a term used to describe Chinese emigrants to the United States, Canada and Australia during the 19th century. The term was widely used in the popular mass media of the day. The term is from Celestial Empire , a traditional name for China....

" and China as the "Celestial Kingdom." Even though at first they were thought to be too weak or fragile to do this type of work, after the first few days on which Chinese were on the line, the decision was made to hire as many as could be found in California (where most were independent gold miners or in service industries such as laundries and kitchens). Many more were imported from China. Most of the men received between one and three dollars per day, but the workers arriving directly from China received much less. Eventually, they went on strike and gained a small increase in salary.

Most of the work consisted of the laying of the rails. The track laying was divided up into various parts: one gang laid rails on the ties, drove the spikes, and bolted the splice bars; at the same time, another gang distributed telegraph poles and wire along the grade, while the cooks prepared dinner and the clerks busied themselves with accounts, records, using telegraph wire to tap for more materials and supplies. Almost all of the track work was done manually, using shovels, picks, axes, black powder, two-wheeled dump carts, wheelbarrows, ropes, mules, and horses, while supply trains carried all the necessary material for the construction, which consisted of “ties, rails, spikes, bolts, telegraph poles, wire, etc.”

In addition to track laying (which typically employed approximately 25% of the labor force), the operation also required the efforts of hundreds of tunnelers, explosive experts, bridge builders, blacksmiths, carpenters, engineers, masons, surveyors, teamster
Teamster
A teamster, in modern American English, is a truck driver. The trade union named after them is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters , one of the largest unions in the United States....

s, telegraphers, and even cooks, to name just a few of the trades involved in construction of the railroad.

Upon the completion of their work on the CPRR's portion of the Pacific Railroad, many Chinese workers moved on to other railroad construction jobs including with the Central Pacific. Of those that left the company's employ, some returned with their savings to their families in Canton while others sent to China for wives and settled in various western communities as miners, laundrymen, and restaurateurs. The majority who remained in the United States, however, returned to and settled in the San Francisco Bay area and elsewhere along the Pacific coast.

Central Pacific


On January 8, 1863, Governor Leland Stanford
Leland Stanford
Amasa Leland Stanford was an American tycoon, industrialist, robber baron, politician and founder of Stanford University.-Early years:...

 ceremoniously broke ground in Sacramento, California, to begin construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific made great progress along the Sacramento Valley. However construction was slowed, first by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, then by the mountains themselves and most importantly by winter snowstorms. Consequently, the Central Pacific expanded its efforts to hire emigrant laborers (many of whom were Chinese). Emigrants seemed to be more willing to tolerate the horrible conditions, and progress continued. The increasing necessity for tunnelling then began to slow progress of the line yet again.

Tunnels were constructed by blasting the granite slopes using black powder (nitroglycerin was only used to construct Summit Tunnel a.k.a. Tunnel No. 6) to bypass the difficulties of the snow. To carve a tunnel, one worker holds a rock drill on granite, then two other workers swing eighteen-pound sledgehammers to chisel a hole. Much of the tunnel construction was followed by deaths from snow slides and avalanches.

The Chinese built 15 tunnels for Central Pacific, the longest of which, the summit tunnel, reached 1659 feet. They were about 32 feet high, 16 feet wide. Derricks at first were used to remove loose rocks then steam hoisting machine replaced them to increase construction progress. The average daily progress was only 0.85 feet a day, which was very slow, or 1.18 feet daily according to historian George Kraus. J. O. Wilder, a Central Pacific-Southern Pacific employee, commented that “The Chinese were as steady, hard-working a set of men as could be found. With the exception of a few whites at the west end of Tunnel No. 6, the laboring force was entirely composed of Chinamen with white foremen. A single Irish foreman with a gang of 30 to 40 Chinese men generally constituted the force at work at each end of a tunnel; of these, 12 to 15 worked on the heading, and the rest on the bottom removing material. When a gang was small or the men needed elsewhere, the bottoms were worked with fewer men or stopped so as to keep the headings going.” The laborers usually worked three shifts of 8 hours each per day, while the foremen worked in two shifts of 12 hours each, managing the laborers.

Construction began again in earnest. Horace Hamilton Minkler, track foreman for the Central Pacific, laid the last rail and tie before the Golden Spike was driven.

Union Pacific



The major investor in the Union Pacific was Thomas Clark Durant, who had made his stake money by smuggling Confederate cotton with the aid of Grenville M. Dodge
Grenville M. Dodge
Grenville Mellen Dodge was a Union army officer on the frontier and during the Civil War, a U.S. Congressman, businessman, and railroad executive who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad....

. Durant chose routes that would favor places where he held land, and he announced connections to other lines at times that suited his share dealings. He paid an associate to submit the construction bid to another company he controlled, Crédit Mobilier
Crédit Mobilier of America scandal
The Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872 involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company in the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The distribution of Crédit Mobilier shares of stock by Congressman Oakes Ames along with cash bribes to...

, manipulating the finances and government subsidies and making himself another fortune. Durant hired Dodge as chief engineer and Jack Casement
John S. Casement
John Stephen "Jack" Casement was a general and brigade commander in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a noted railroad contractor. He directed the constructional phase of the Transcontinental Railroad, which linked the Western United States with the East.-Early life and career:John...

 as construction boss.

In the East, the progress started in Omaha, Nebraska, by the Union Pacific Railroad proceeded very quickly because of the open terrain of the Great Plains
Great Plains
The Great Plains are a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe and grassland, which lies west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada. This area covers parts of the U.S...

. This changed, however, as the work entered Indian-held lands. The Native Americans saw the addition of the railroad as a violation of their treaties with the United States. War parties began to raid the moving labor camps that followed the progress of the line. Union Pacific responded by increasing security and hiring marksmen to kill American Bison
American Bison
The American bison , also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds...

, which were both a physical threat to trains and the primary food source for many of the Plains Indians. The Native Americans then began killing laborers when they realized that the so-called "Iron Horse" threatened their existence. Security measures were further strengthened, and progress on the railroad continued.

The Last Spike



Six years after the groundbreaking, laborers of the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east met at Promontory Summit, Utah. It was here on May 10, 1869, that Stanford drove The Last Spike (or golden spike
Golden spike
The "Golden Spike" is the ceremonial final spike driven by Leland Stanford to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory...

) which is now on display at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

, that joined the rails of the transcontinental railroad. In perhaps the world's first live mass-media event, the hammers and spike were wired to the telegraph
Telegraphy
Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of messages via some form of signalling technology. Telegraphy requires messages to be converted to a code which is known to both sender and receiver...

 line so that each hammer stroke would be heard as a click at telegraph stations nationwide—the hammer strokes were missed, so the clicks were sent by the telegraph operator. As soon as the ceremonial spike had been replaced by an ordinary iron spike, a message was transmitted to both the East Coast and West Coast that simply read, "DONE." The country erupted in celebration upon receipt of this message. Travel from coast to coast was reduced from six months or more to just one week.

Railroad developments


When the golden spike was driven, the rail network was not yet connected to the Atlantic or Pacific, but merely connected Omaha and Sacramento. In November 1869 the Central Pacific finally connected Sacramento
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

 to San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

 at Oakland, California
Oakland, California
Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724...

.

The Central Pacific soon learned that it would have trouble maintaining an open track in winter across the Sierras. At first they tried plowing the road with special snowplows mounted on their steam engines. When this was found only partially successful an extensive process of building snow sheds over some of the track to protect it from deep snows and avalanches was instituted. This eventually kept the tracks free for all except a few days of the year.

Both railroads soon instituted extensive upgrade projects to build better bridges, viaducts, dugways, heavier duty rails, stronger ties, better road beds etc. The original track had often been laid as fast as possible with only secondary attention to maintenance and longevity. Getting the subsidies was initially the primary incentive; upgrades of all kinds were routinely required in the coming years.

The Union Pacific would not connect Omaha to Council Bluffs until completing the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge is a rail truss bridge across the Missouri River connecting Council Bluffs, Iowa with Omaha, Nebraska.-History:...

 in 1873.

With the completion of the Civil War, the competing railroads coming from Missouri took advantage of their initial strategic advantage for a building boom. The H&SJ
Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad
The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was the first railroad to cross Missouri starting in Hannibal in the northeast and going to St. Joseph, Missouri, in the northwest...

 finished the Hannibal Bridge
Hannibal Bridge
The First Hannibal Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River and was to establish Kansas City, Missouri as a major city and rail center....

 which was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River in July 1869 in Kansas City. This in turn connected to Kansas Pacific trains going from Kansas City to Denver which had built the Denver Pacific Railway
Denver Pacific Railway
The Denver Pacific Railway was a historic railroad that operated in the western United States during the late 19th century.Formed in 1867 in the Colorado Territory, the company operated lines in Colorado and present-day southeastern Wyoming in the 1870s until merging with the Kansas Pacific and...

 connecting to the Union Pacific. In August 1870 the Kansas Pacific laid the last spike connecting to the Denver Pacific line at Strasburg, Colorado
Strasburg, Colorado
Strasburg is a census-designated place in Adams and Arapahoe counties in the U.S. state of Colorado. The population was 1,402 at the 2000 census. The Strasburg Post Office has the ZIP Code 80136....

 and the first true Atlantic to Pacific United States railroad was completed.

Kansas City's head start in connecting to a true transcontinental railroad was to contribute to it rather than Omaha being the dominant rail center west of Chicago.

The Kansas Pacific became part of the Union Pacific in 1880.

On June 4, 1876, an express train called the Transcontinental Express
Transcontinental Express
As a publicity stunt, the express train called the Transcontinental Express arrived in San Francisco, California, via the First Transcontinental Railroad on 4 June 1876, only 83 hours and 39 minutes after having left New York City. The feat was reported widely in US newspapers.-References:*...

arrived in San Francisco via the First Transcontinental Railroad only 83 hours and 39 minutes after it left from New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. Only ten years before the same journey would have taken months over land or weeks on ship.

The Central Pacific was absorbed by the Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific Railroad
The Southern Pacific Transportation Company , earlier Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company, and usually simply called the Southern Pacific or Espee, was an American railroad....

 in 1885. The Union Pacific initially took over the Southern Pacific in 1901 but was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to divest it because of monopoly concerns. The Union Pacific completed the take-over of the Southern Pacific in 1996.

Having been bypassed with the completion of the Lucin Cutoff
Lucin Cutoff
The Lucin Cutoff is a railroad line which included a railroad trestle which crossed the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Built by the Southern Pacific Company between February 1902 and March 1904 across Promontory Point, it bypassed the original Central Pacific Railroad route through Promontory Summit...

 in 1904, the Promontory Summit rails were pulled up in 1942 to be recycled for the World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 effort. This process began with a ceremonial "undriving" at the golden spike location. In 1957, Congress authorized the Golden Spike National Historic Site
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Golden Spike National Historic Site is a U.S. National Historic Site located at Promontory Summit, north of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.It commemorates the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad where the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad met on May 10, 1869...

. On May 10, 2006, on the anniversary of the driving of the spike, Utah announced that its state quarter design would be a representation of the driving of the spike.

Credit Mobilier



Despite the transcontinental success and millions in government subsidies, the Union Pacific faced bankruptcy less than three years after the golden spike as details surfaced about overcharges Credit Mobilier had billed Union Pacific for the formal building of the railroad. The scandal hit epic proportions in the United States presidential election, 1872
United States presidential election, 1872
In the United States presidential election of 1872, incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant was easily elected to a second term in office with Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts as his running mate, despite a split within the Republican Party that resulted in a defection of many Liberal Republicans...

 which saw the re-election of Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 and became the biggest scandal of the Gilded Age
Gilded Age
In United States history, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded...

. It would not be resolved until the congressman who was supposed to have reined in its excesses but instead wound up profiting from it was dead.

Durant had initially come up with the scheme to have Credit Mobilier subcontract to do the actual track work. Durant gained control of the company after buying out employee Herbert Hoxie for $10,000. Under Durant's guidance the company was charging Union Pacific often twice or more the customary cost for track work (thus in effect paying himself to build the railroad). The process was to mire down Union Pacific work.

Lincoln asked Massachusetts Congressman Oakes Ames, who was on the railroad committee, to clean things up and get the railroad moving. Ames got his brother Oliver Ames, Jr.
Oliver Ames, Jr.
Oliver Ames, Jr. was president of Union Pacific Railroad when the railroad met the Central Pacific Railroad in Utah for the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in North America.-Biography:...

 named president of the Union Pacific and Ames himself became president of Credit Mobiler.

Ames in turn gave stock options to other politicians while at the same time continuing the lucrative overcharges. The scandal was to implicate Vice President Schuyler Colfax
Schuyler Colfax
Schuyler Colfax, Jr. was a United States Representative from Indiana , Speaker of the House of Representatives , and the 17th Vice President of the United States . To date, he is one of only two Americans to have served as both House speaker and vice president.President Ulysses S...

 (who was cleared) and future President James Garfield
James Garfield
James Abram Garfield served as the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive...

 among others.

The scandal broke in 1872 when the New York Sun published correspondence between Henry S. McComb and Ames detailing the scheme. In the ensuing Congressional investigation, it was recommended that Ames be expelled from Congress but this was reduced to a censure and Ames died within three months.

Durant was to leave the Union Pacific and a new rail baron Jay Gould
Jay Gould
Jason "Jay" Gould was a leading American railroad developer and speculator. He has long been vilified as an archetypal robber baron, whose successes made him the ninth richest American in history. Condé Nast Portfolio ranked Gould as the 8th worst American CEO of all time...

 was to become the dominant stockholder. As a result of the Panic of 1873
Panic of 1873
The Panic of 1873 triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879, and even longer in some countries. The depression was known as the Great Depression until the 1930s, but is now known as the Long Depression...

 Jay Gould was able to pick up bargains, among them the control of the Union Pacific Railroad and Western Union
Western Union
The Western Union Company is a financial services and communications company based in the United States. Its North American headquarters is in Englewood, Colorado. Up until 2006, Western Union was the best-known U.S...

 also fell under his control.

Visible remains


Visible remains of the historic line are still easily located—hundreds of miles are still in service today, especially through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and canyons in Utah and Wyoming. While the original rail has long since been replaced because of age and wear, and the roadbed upgraded and repaired, the lines generally run on top of the original, handmade grade. Vista points on Interstate 80
Interstate 80
Interstate 80 is the second-longest Interstate Highway in the United States, following Interstate 90. It is a transcontinental artery running from downtown San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey in the New York City Metropolitan Area...

 through California's Truckee Canyon provide a panoramic view of many miles of the original Central Pacific line and of the snow shed
Snow shed
An avalanche snow bridge or simply snow bridge is a type of rigid snow-supporting structure for avalanche control . Avalanche bridges can be made of steel, prestressed concrete frames, or timber....

s which make winter train travel safe and practical.

In areas where the original line has been bypassed and abandoned, primarily in Utah, the road grade is still obvious, as are numerous cuts and fills, especially the Big Fill
Big Fill
Not to be confused with Big Phil Scolari, the Brazilian Football Manager.The Big Fill was an engineering project on the First Transcontinental Railroad in the U.S. state of Utah. To avoid a costly tunnel through mountainous terrain east of Promontory Summit, Central Pacific engineers mapped an...

 a few miles east of Promontory. The sweeping curve which connected to the east end of the Big Fill now passes a Thiokol
Thiokol
Thiokol is a U.S. corporation concerned initially with rubber and related chemicals, and later with rocket and missile propulsion systems...

 rocket research and development facility.

Current passenger service


Amtrak
Amtrak
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak , is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. "Amtrak" is a portmanteau of the words "America" and "track". It is headquartered at Union...

's California Zephyr
California Zephyr
The California Zephyr is a long passenger train route operated by Amtrak in the midwestern and western United States.It runs from Chicago, Illinois, in the east to Emeryville, California, in the west, passing through the states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California...

, a daily passenger service from Emeryville, California
Emeryville, California
Emeryville is a small city located in Alameda County, California, in the United States. It is located in a corridor between the cities of Berkeley and Oakland, extending to the shore of San Francisco Bay. Its proximity to San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, the University of California, Berkeley, and...

 (San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco Bay Area
The San Francisco Bay Area, commonly known as the Bay Area, is a populated region that surrounds the San Francisco and San Pablo estuaries in Northern California. The region encompasses metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, along with smaller urban and rural areas...

) to Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, uses the First Transcontinental Railroad from Sacramento to central Nevada. Because this rail line currently operates in a directional running setup across most of Nevada, the California Zephyr will switch to the Central Corridor
Central Corridor (Union Pacific Railroad)
The Central Corridor is a rail line operated by the Union Pacific Railroad from near Winnemucca, Nevada to Denver, Colorado in the western United States. The line is in use for freight, and provides the route of the California Zephyr. The BNSF Railway has trackage rights on the entire line. The...

 at either Winnemucca
Winnemucca, Nevada
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 7,174 people, 2,736 households, and 1,824 families residing in the city. The population density was 867.5 people per square mile . There were 3,280 housing units at an average density of 396.6 per square mile...

 or Wells
Wells, Nevada
Wells is a city in Elko County, in northeast Nevada in the western United States. The population was 1,346 at the 2000 census. Wells is located at the junction of U.S. Route 93 and Interstate 80, approximately east of Elko and is part of the Elko Micropolitan Statistical Area.-History:The site...

.

Popular culture


The joining together of the Union Pacific line with the Central Pacific line in May 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, was one of the major inspirations for French writer Jules Verne
Jules Verne
Jules Gabriel Verne was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , A Journey to the Center of the Earth , and Around the World in Eighty Days...

's book entitled Around the World in Eighty Days
Around the World in Eighty Days
Around the World in Eighty Days is a classic adventure novel by the French writer Jules Verne, first published in 1873. In the story, Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager set by his friends at the...

, which was published in the year 1873.
The feat is depicted in various movies, including the 1939 film Union Pacific
Union Pacific (film)
Union Pacific is a 1939 American dramatic western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. Based on the novel Trouble Shooter by Western fiction author Ernest Haycox, the film is about the building of the railroad across the American West.-Plot:The 1862...

, starring Joel McCrea
Joel McCrea
Joel Albert McCrea was an American actor whose career spanned 50 years and appearances in over 90 films.-Early life:...

 and Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck was an American actress. She was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra...

 and directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director and Academy Award-winning film producer in both silent and sound films. He was renowned for the flamboyance and showmanship of his movies...

, which depicts the fictional Central Pacific investor Asa Barrows obstructing attempts by the Union Pacific from reaching Ogden, Utah.

While not exactly accurate, John Ford's 1924 silent movie The Iron Horse
The Iron Horse (film)
The Iron Horse is a silent film directed by John Ford in 1924. It was produced by Fox Film. -Synopsis:The film presents an idealized image of the construction of the American first transcontinental railroad. It culminates with the scene of driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit on May...

captures the fervent nationalism that drove public support for the project. Among the cooks serving the film's cast and crew between shots were some of the Chinese laborers who actually worked on the Central Pacific section of the railroad.

The 1962 film How the West Was Won
How the West Was Won (film)
How the West Was Won is a 1962 American epic Western film. The picture was one of the last "old-fashioned" epic films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to enjoy great success. It follows four generations of a family as they move ever westward, from western New York state to the Pacific Ocean...

has a whole segment devoted to the construction; one of the movie's most famous scenes, filmed in Cinerama
Cinerama
Cinerama is the trademarked name for a widescreen process which works by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, subtending 146° of arc. It is also the trademarked name for the corporation which was formed to market it...

, is of a buffalo stampede over the railroad.

Kristiana Gregory
Kristiana Gregory
Kristiana Gregory is a popular author of children's historical fiction, including several for the Dear America and Royal Diaries series...

's book The Great Railroad Race (part of the "Dear America" series) is written as a diary by Libby West, who chronicles the end of the building of the railroad and the excitement which engulfed the country at the time.

In the 1999 Will Smith
Will Smith
Willard Christopher "Will" Smith, Jr. , also known by his stage name The Fresh Prince, is an American actor, producer, and rapper. He has enjoyed success in television, film and music. In April 2007, Newsweek called him the most powerful actor in Hollywood...

 film, Wild Wild West
Wild Wild West
Wild Wild West is a 1999 American steampunk action-comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline , Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek.Similar to the original TV series it was based on, The Wild Wild West, the film features a large amount of gadgetry...

, the joining ceremony is the setting of an assassination attempt on then U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 by the film's antagonist Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless
Dr. Loveless
Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless is a fictional character, a villain on the 1960s television series The Wild Wild West. He is a brilliant dwarf portrayed by Michael Dunn. As a mad scientist, and the arch-enemy of Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon, Dr. Loveless was involved in...

.

The building of the railway is covered by the 2004 BBC documentary series Seven Wonders of the Industrial World
Seven Wonders of the Industrial World
Seven Wonders of the Industrial World is a 7-part British documentary/docudrama television miniseries that originally aired from to on BBC...

in episode 6, "The Line".

The series American Experience
American Experience
American Experience is a television program airing on the Public Broadcasting Service Public television stations in the United States. The program airs documentaries, many of which have won awards, about important or interesting events and people in American history...

also documents the railway in the episode titled "Transcontinental Railroad".

The main character in The Claim
The Claim
The Claim is a 2000 British Western/romance film directed by Michael Winterbottom. The screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce is loosely based on the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. The original music score is composed by Michael Nyman....

(2000) is a surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

, and the film is partially about the effort of a frontier mayor to have the railroad routed through his town.

The popular British Television show Doctor Who
Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

featured the Transcontinental Railroad in a BBC audio book entitled The Runaway Train
The Runaway Train
The Runaway Train is the second audio story featuring the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. It is set in the Wild West where the Doctor and Amy race along the railroads. It is written by Oli Smith and read by Matt Smith. It was released in a promotion in The Daily Telegraph on 15 May 2010....

, read by Matt Smith and written for audio by Oli Smith.

The children's book Ten Mile Day by Mary Ann Fraser tells the story of the final, record setting push by the Central Pacific in which they set a record by laying 10 miles (16.1 km) of track in a single day on April 28, 1869 to settle a $10,000 bet.

The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad provides the setting for the AMC television series Hell on Wheels
Hell on Wheels (TV series)
Hell on Wheels is an American dramatic television series created and produced by Joe and Tony Gayton. Set in 1865, the series centers on the settlement that accompanied the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, referred to as "Hell on Wheels" by the company men, surveyors, support...

. Thomas Durant is a regular character in the series and is portrayed by actor Colm Meaney
Colm Meaney
Colm J. Meaney is an Irish actor widely known for playing Miles O'Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He is second only to Michael Dorn in most appearances in Star Trek episodes. He has guest-starred on many TV shows from Law & Order to The Simpsons...

.

See also

  • Overland Route (Union Pacific Railroad)
    Overland Route (Union Pacific Railroad)
    The Overland Route was a train route operated jointly by the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad / Southern Pacific Railroad, between Council Bluffs, Iowa / Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco, California over the grade of the First Transcontinental Railroad which had been...

  • California and the railroads
    California and the railroads
    The establishment of America's transcontinental rail lines securely linked California to the rest of the country, and the far-reaching transportation systems that grew out of them during the century that followed contributed to the state’s social, political, and economic development...

  • Chin Lin Sou
    Chin Lin Sou
    Chin Lin Sou was an influential leader in the Chinese American community and prominent figure in Colorado. He immigrated to the United States from Guangzhou, China, in 1859 at the age of 22. Chin stood out amongst his Chinese peers at the time in the United States as he dressed like a westerner...

  • Hell on Wheels
    Hell on Wheels
    The phrase "Hell on Wheels" was originally used to describe the itinerant collection of flimsily assembled gambling houses, dance halls, saloons, and brothels that followed the army of Union Pacific railroad workers westward as they constructed the American transcontinental railroad in the...

  • Transcontinental railroad
    Transcontinental railroad
    A transcontinental railroad is a contiguous network of railroad trackage that crosses a continental land mass with terminals at different oceans or continental borders. Such networks can be via the tracks of either a single railroad, or over those owned or controlled by multiple railway companies...

  • Interstate 80
    Interstate 80
    Interstate 80 is the second-longest Interstate Highway in the United States, following Interstate 90. It is a transcontinental artery running from downtown San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey in the New York City Metropolitan Area...

    - the modern-day New York-to-San Francisco link

External links