Little Bits of History

I Think I Can

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 10, 2010

Finishing the job, setting the last spike

May 10, 1869: The First Transcontinental Railroad in the US is completed in Promontory Summit, Utah with the driving of a golden spike. Prior to this, travel to the western portion of the US was generally by wagon train and quite slow. There was a decades-long push to create a modern method of transportation across the country. The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 was the impetus behind creating this railroad with financial help and land grants from the federal government.

The construction was a feat of engineering skill and dogged physical labor. The Central Pacific Railroad laid 690 miles of track starting in Sacramento, CA. The Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles of track starting in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska, being west of the Mississippi River, linked up with systems already in use.

The engineering feat was astounding. The eastward push had to cross the rugged, treacherous Rocky Mountains. Equipment was rustic by today’s standards. The majority of the Union Pacific track was built by Irish laborer and veterans of the Civil War. The Central Pacific track was mostly built by Chinese immigrants. Six years after the groundbreaking ceremonies, a new ceremony was held. Leland Stanford drove the last spike, the golden spike which is now on display at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. The huge event may be one of the first live mass media events as the hammers and spikes were each wired to the telegraph lines and each hammer blow was broadcast.

The first train to leave New York City and arrive in Sacramento took only 83 hours and 39 minutes. That is approximately 3-and-a-half days. Prior to the railroad’s construction, that same trip over land would have taken months and by sea it would have taken weeks. Today, a cross country trip from NYC to Sacramento via Amtrak would take 50 hours and 25 minutes [slightly more than two days] with one stop in Chicago lasting 4 hours and 45 minutes.  A direct flight from NYC  to Sacramento takes between 6.5 and 8 hours, depending on airlines and flight patterns.

“RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition.” – Ambrose Bierce

“Nothing was more up-to-date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station.” – Ada Louise Huxtable

“What did the railroad industry do when the automobile came? … It became a different business.” – David Adelson

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Chinese Proverb

Also on the day, in 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first woman nominated to run for President of the US.

4 Responses

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  1. Chaplain Shields Moore said, on May 15, 2010 at 7:19 am

    I have copied your story about the “Golden Spike” for future use in my website. Chapnotes is a daily web page for the 6,000 employees at the Tampa International Airport.


  2. patriciahysell said, on May 15, 2010 at 7:44 am

    I’m glad you like it. 🙂
    Please include my name and a link back to my site, if you choose to use this. Perhaps some of your readers would be interested in other topics as well.

  3. Maurine Strektenfinger said, on August 13, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Where can I get a poster size copy of this picture?
    Thanks, Maurine

  4. patriciahysell said, on August 13, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I have no idea. I wish I could be of help.

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