150th Anniversary of the
This year marks the 150th anniversary (1869–2019) of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad, which united the country for the first time with a quick, convenient means of transportation and communication—just four years after the U.S. Civil War. The new railway—which ran from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California—cut travel time from many months to just a week, which greatly accelerated settlement of the West. (Railroads had linked the U.S. East Coast with Chicago and the Mississippi River in the 1850s.)
The 1,750-mile transcontinental railroad was completed in northern Utah in May 1869, after six years of construction, joining the Central Pacific Railroad from the west to the Union Pacific Railroad from the east. The location is now the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit, 66 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Today the site features replicas of the two train engines that met there in 1869. A recent celebration there marked the historic anniversary.
Most of the Central Pacific labor force that carved railbeds over and through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains were Chinese-Americans. Historians say the Chinese worked for less pay for longer hours than their white counterparts, and they performed the bulk of the most dangerous tasks. Over 1,000 railroad workers may have died while building the railroad, in blasting accidents, snowslides, falls, etc.
Most Union Pacific workers were Irish immigrants, freed African American former slaves, and Civil War veterans. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) built most of the road in Utah.
Although the 1869 railroad was a landmark engineering marvel that greatly enhanced commerce and transportation across the United States, it was not a coast-to-coast transcontinental railroad. That happened in June 1876, when an express train called the “Transcontinental Express” arrived in San Francisco 83 hours after leaving New York City—just about three-and-a-half days!