Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. According to my This Day In History Calendar, today is the 152nd anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad (May 10, 1869), an event that had a profound effect on everything from commerce to the environment of this country.
So today I thought I’d share a bit of history and trivia around this event.
First a timeline of key events:
- 1832 – Dr. Hartwell Carver made his first push for construction of a railroad to connect the east coast to the west coast. That proposal didn’t make it through, but Dr. Carver didn’t give up and over the next several years continued to write articles supporting his proposal.
- 1853 – Congress commissions a survey of 5 possible routes. These were completed by 1855
- 1862 – The Pacific Railroad Bill signed by Abraham Lincoln. The act offered government incentives to assist “men of talent, men of character, men who are willing to invest” in developing the nation’s first transcontinental rail line.
- 1863 (Jan) – The Central Pacific Railroad breaks ground in Sacramento. They lay the first rail in October of that same year.
- 1863 (Dec) – The Union Pacific Railroad breaks ground in Omaha. But because of the Civil War it isn’t until July of 1865 that the first rail on the eastern end is laid.
- 1869 – Transcontinental Railroad completed
Now on to some other Interesting facts and trivia:
- The railroad line followed a route similar to that used as the central route of the Pony Express primarily because this route had been proven navigable in winter.
- There were two main railroad companies involved in constructing the historic line. The Central Pacific Railroad received the contract to construct the line from Sacramento to points east. The Union Pacific Railroad was awarded the contract to forge the path from Council Bluffs, Iowa west. As noted above, construction began in 1862 and in the early days the place where the two legs would meet up and become one was not decided.
- As the project neared completion, President Ulysses Grant set Promontory Point Utah as the place where the two rails would meet. On May 10, 1869, the final spike was driven and the Transcontinental Railroad was deemed complete.
- The final spike driven is often called the Golden Spike. However the spike was actually gold plated, a solid gold spike would have been much too soft to drive into the rail.
- The total length of the rail line was 1,776 miles. 1086 miles was laid by the Union Pacific crew and 690 miles by Central Pacific. At the time of its completion it was one of the longest contiguous railroad in the world
- The chosen route required 19 tunnels to be drilled through the mountains. This was no easy task during this time period and it managed to push forward barely a foot per day. Even when nitroglycerin was introduced to blast through the rock it only increased their progress to 2 feet per day.
- When completed, the Transcontinental Railroad allowed passengers to cross the country in just one week as opposed to the four to six months it had taken before.
- The fare to travel from Omaha to San Francisco was $65 for a third class bench seat, $110 for a second class seat and $136 if you wanted to ride first class in a Pullman sleeping car.
And there you have it, a short and sweet lesson on the Transcontinental Railway. So what about you, do you have any experience with trains and railways you’d like to share? If not, would you like to ride a train someday?
My only personal experience was on a vacation to the Grand Canyon – we road the train from Williams AZ to the south rim, a trip of about 2 hours. It was a really fun addition to our vacation experience.
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