Transcontinental Railroad

Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, 1869

Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, 1869

Summary

The Transcontinental Railroad (also called the Pacific Railroad or Overland Route) was the first railway to span the continental United States. Begun in 1863, it was completed in 1869, when eastbound and westbound railroad lines were connected at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

Background

The most prominent early supporter of a transcontinental railroad was Asa Whitney, a New York businessman. Although his efforts weren’t successful, his advocacy for this kind of railroad brought national attention to the issue. In the 1850s, the U.S. government commissioned several topographical surveys to explore possible routes for a cross-country railroad.

Finally, in 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, which provided large land grants for the railroad and authorized government bonds to finance it.

Building the Railroad

The Central Pacific Railroad built the western portion of the track, beginning from Sacramento, California, in 1863. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese laborers formed the majority of the workforce. The Union Pacific Railroad, starting from Omaha, Nebraska, built the eastern portion of the railway using predominantly Irish immigrants and Civil War veterans.

The path of the railroad took it through the lands of numerous Native American tribes, and violence sometimes erupted between the tribes and railroad workers.

Golden Spike Ceremony

In April 1869, it was decided that the two halves of the railroad would meet at Promontory Summit, in Utah Territory. The tracks were connected on May 10, 1869, in a ceremony attended by railroad representatives, dignitaries, railroad workers, and members of the public. A golden spike was driven as the symbolic last spike of the railroad.

Impact

The Transcontinental Railroad was significant because it substantially reduced the time and money it took to travel from one half of the country to the other. People and goods could now move across the nation more quickly than ever before, affecting economies and population growth around the country, especially in the West.

Learn more about the Transcontinental Railroad through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.


Articles and Clippings about the Transcontinental Railroad

Asa Whitney makes proposal to Congress for building of transcontinental railroad, 1845Asa Whitney makes proposal to Congress for building of transcontinental railroad, 1845 Wed, Nov 19, 1845 – 1 · The Cadiz Sentinel (Cadiz, Ohio) · Newspapers.comPacific Railroad Surveys underway to determine possible routes for transcontinental railroad, 1853Pacific Railroad Surveys underway to determine possible routes for transcontinental railroad, 1853 Wed, Jun 29, 1853 – 2 · Carlisle Weekly Herald (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comMembers of House of Representatives appointed to committee on transcontinental railroad, 1856Members of House of Representatives appointed to committee on transcontinental railroad, 1856 Wed, Feb 27, 1856 – 1 · New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · Newspapers.comText of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, authorizing the building of the Transcontinental RailroadText of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, authorizing the building of the Transcontinental Railroad Tue, Sep 2, 1862 – 2 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comGround broken for western portion of Transcontinental Railroad, 1863Ground broken for western portion of Transcontinental Railroad, 1863 Fri, Jan 9, 1863 – Page 1 · Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) · Newspapers.comChinese laborers work on the Transcontinental Railroad at about half the pay of white workers, 1865Chinese laborers work on the Transcontinental Railroad at about half the pay of white workers, 1865 Wed, Oct 11, 1865 – 1 · Lamoille Newsdealer (Hyde Park, Vermont) · Newspapers.comProgress of the Transcontinental Railroad in August 1867Progress of the Transcontinental Railroad in August 1867 Sat, Aug 24, 1867 – 2 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comTranscontinental Railroad workers attacked by Native Americans in Kansas, 1867Transcontinental Railroad workers attacked by Native Americans in Kansas, 1867 Sat, Sep 21, 1867 – 1 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comAd for Union Pacific Railroad bonds for building of Transcontinental Railroad, 1868Ad for Union Pacific Railroad bonds for building of Transcontinental Railroad, 1868 Sat, Jan 25, 1868 – 3 · New England Farmer (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.comProgress of Transcontinental Railroad is Progress of Transcontinental Railroad is "without parallel in history of railway engineering, 1868 Sat, Aug 29, 1868 – 2 · New England Farmer (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.comTranscontinental Railroad nears completion; junction dispute arises, Apr 1869Transcontinental Railroad nears completion; junction dispute arises, Apr 1869 Sat, Apr 3, 1869 – 2 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comTranscontinental Railroad completion ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah; last spike driven, 1869Transcontinental Railroad completion ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah; last spike driven, 1869 Tue, May 11, 1869 – 3 · New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · Newspapers.comUtah newspaper reports on the last spike (Golden Spike) ceremony of the Transcontinental RailroadUtah newspaper reports on the last spike (Golden Spike) ceremony of the Transcontinental Railroad Wed, May 19, 1869 – 1 · Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) · Newspapers.comDescription of Transcontinental Railroad laurel tie and golden spike used at completion ceremonyDescription of Transcontinental Railroad laurel tie and golden spike used at completion ceremony Mon, May 17, 1869 – 1 · The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) · Newspapers.comBritish newspaper reports that Transcontinental Railroad has been completedBritish newspaper reports that Transcontinental Railroad has been completed Sat, May 22, 1869 – 5 · The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser (Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England) · Newspapers.com100th anniversary/centennial of Transcontinental Railroad golden spike, 1969100th anniversary/centennial of Transcontinental Railroad golden spike, 1969 Thu, May 8, 1969 – Page 34 · Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona) · Newspapers.comRetrospective on the role of Chinese workers in building the Transcontinental Railroad, 2015Retrospective on the role of Chinese workers in building the Transcontinental Railroad, 2015 Sun, Jun 21, 2015 – Page 4 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.com
"Transcontinental Railroad," Newspapers.com Topics (https://www.newspapers.com/topics/industrial-gilded-ages/transcontinental-railroad/ : accessed May 21, 2019)