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First Transcontinental Railroad (North America)

The First Transcontinental Railroad in North America was finished in 1869. Since 1859 the most westerly railroad from the Atlantic coast reached Omaha, Nebraska. To connect it with the Pacific coast the Central Pacific Railroad was built from Sacramento, California eastward and the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha westward, until they met.

It was considered by many to be the greatest technological feat of the 19th century. It served as a vital link for trade, commerce and travel that joined the eastern and western halves of the late-19th-century United States. The establishment of this first transcontinental railroad would quickly end the romantic, yet far slower and more dangerous Pony Express and Stagecoach Lines[?]. In addition, the march of "Manifest Destiny" and the establishment of the so-called "Iron Horse" across Native American land would greatly accelerate the demise of great plains Indian culture.

The train pictured is the Jupiter which carried Leland Stanford, one of the "big four" owners of the Central Pacific, and other railway officials to the Golden Spike Ceremony. Notice the Indians on the hill overlooking the train. [1] (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/may10)

Table of contents

History Theodore Judah is considered to be the father of the First Transcontinental Railroad. (This area needs expansion)

On July 1st[?], 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act and thus began the "Great Railroad Race" between the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad: each wanted to complete as large a share of the total distance as they could.

Six months later, on January 8th[?], 1863 in Sacramento, California, Governor Leland Stanford ceremoniously broke ground to begin construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific made great progress along the Sacramento Valley, however construction was later slowed; first by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains[?], then by the mountains themselves and most importantly by winter snow storms. As a result, the Central Pacific expanded its efforts to hire immigrant laborers (many of which were Chinese[?]). The immigrants seemed to be more willing to tolerate the horrible conditions, and progress continued. Unfortunately, the increasing necessity for tunneling then began to slow progess of the line yet again. To combat this, Central Pacific began to use the newly-invented and very unstable nitroglycerin explosives -- which accelerated both the rate of construction and the mortality of the laborers. Appalled by the losses, the Central Pacific began to use less volatile explosives. Construction began again in earnest.

In the East, the progress started in Omaha by the Union Pacific Railroad, proceeded very quickly due to the featureless terrain of the Great Plains. However, they too would soon become subject to slowdowns as they entered Indian-held lands. The Native Americans living there saw the addition of the rail-line as a violation of their treaties with the United States. War parties began to raid the moving labor camps that followed the progress of the line. Union Pacific responded by increasing security and by hiring marksmen to kill buffalo -- which were both a physical threat to trains, and were the primary food on the Plains Indians. The Native Americans then began killing laborers when they realized that the so-called "Iron Horse" threatened their very existence as a culture. Security measures were further strengthened, and progress on the rail-line continued.

Six years after ground-breaking, laborers of the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east, met at Promontory Point, Utah. It was here on May 10, 1869, that Stanford drove the gold spike that symbolized the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in North America. As soon as the ceremonial spike had been replaced by an ordinary iron spike, a telegraph message was transmitted to both east and west coasts that simply read, "Done". The country erupted in celebration upon receipt of this message (which was the first coast-to-coast broadcast of a media event in the United States). Now travel from coast to coast was reduced from four or more months to just one week.

Between 1865 and 1869 the Union Pacific laid 1,086 miles and the Central Pacific 689 miles of track. The years immediately following the construction of the railway were years of astounding growth for the United States.

Laborers <!- more info needed here ->

The majority of the track was built by Irish laborers from the East, Chinese who entered the country from the West, veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies, and Mormons who wished to see the railroad pass through Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah. The men worked for an average of between one and three dollars a day.

Mostly Irish worked for the Union Pacific and mostly Chinese worked for the Central Pacific even though at first they were thought to be too weak/fragile to do this type of work.

Current passenger service

Amtrak runs a daily service from Emeryville, California to Chicago, Illinois along this railroad. The trip takes some more than 2 days.

In the north of the U.S.A. Amtrak runs a service on another transcontinental railroad, in the south on two more.

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