The idea of a transcontinental railway had been tossed around for decades, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it gained true momentum. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act, which authorized the construction of a transcontinental railroad. Two companies were chosen to build the railway: the Union Pacific Railroad Company would build from the east, and the Central Pacific Railroad Company would build from the west.
Construction began in earnest, with thousands of workers braving harsh conditions and difficult terrain to lay track across the continent. The Union Pacific Railroad Company was met with the challenge of building tracks through the Great Plains, while the Central Pacific Railroad Company had to contend with the formidable Sierra Nevada mountains. Workers on both sides faced harrowing conditions, including extreme temperatures, dangerous animals, and the constant threat of Indian attacks.
Despite these difficulties, progress on the railroad was swift. By 1866, the Union Pacific had reached the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska, while the Central Pacific had made its way through the Sierra Nevada mountains and into California. The two companies continued to push forward, meeting in Promontory, Utah in 1869. On May 10th of that year, a ceremonial golden spike was driven into the ground, officially marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The impact of the Transcontinental Railroad on the United States was profound. For the first time in history, it was possible to travel from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast in a matter of days instead of months. This dramatically changed the way people and goods could move across the country. Farmers could transport their crops to new markets, businesses could expand their reach across the continent, and settlers could move westward more easily than ever before.
The railroad also played a critical role in linking the country together during the Civil War. Troops and supplies could be moved rapidly across the country, allowing the Union to maintain its strength in the west despite Confederate attempts to cut off communication and supplies.
Today, more than 150 years after it was completed, the Transcontinental Railroad remains a symbol of American ingenuity and determination. It represents a time in our history when we were able to come together and accomplish something truly extraordinary. And as we continue to build and innovate, it serves as a reminder of what we can achieve when we work together toward a common goal.