Today marks the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, then called the Pacific Railroad. The driving of the now-legendary Golden Spike by California governor Leland Stanford at Promontory Summit in the Utah territory on May 10, 1869 marked the completion of the most titanic engineering feat of the nineteenth century and a key moment in the development of the American nation. Begun in earnest only four years earlier, a continuous line of about 1,800 miles of track now connected Sacramento, California and Omaha, Nebraska, cutting the travel time from coast to coast from generally six months to about eight days. The ceremony was also the first major public event to be broadcast live to the entire nation, as telegraphers had rigged the spike and the track so that a signal was sent all across America when the last blow was struck. Technical details prevented the scheme from working perfectly, and telegraphers on the scene had to improvise in order to send the signal, but the entire event was a fitting celebration of progress.
The building of the Pacific Railroad is a massive subject, meriting many volumes, but this present work has only a modest aim: To introduce the reader to the effort and the people involved, and to honor the occasion. Continue reading