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Building the Transcontinental Railroad

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Cultures +4 Age Levels Primary (5 to 8 years old), Elementary (9 to 12 years old)

At our core, we are railroad people. The railroads, for better or worse, shaped the cities in which we live and the spatial relationships between the rural and urban areas of the United States. Railroad language creeps into our vocabulary. We are always getting derailed, or off-track, or, if angry, we are steamed or getting ready to blow our stacks! Our understanding of time and of time zones and our ability to trace the minute shifts of seconds and minutes is a product of being a railroad nation. And, until recently, as one of the largest employers in the United States, many people have a personal family connection to working on the railroads. Railroads started well before 1869, but it was not until that year that the nation was bound together by a transcontinental system. On May 10, 1869, the driving of a golden spike, signaled the ceremonial end to a process that had been going on for years. Two companies, one starting in Omaha and the other in Sacramento competed to lay track. Their reward for each mile was government money and lots of it. By the time that they met at Promontory Point, Utah, vast sums of money and untold human labor and sacrifice had been expended on this incredible human endeavor. A single track united the continent. What used to take months by wagon train, could now be measured in mere days. It changed everything, forever. 

Theodore Judah

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Transcontinental Railroad

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Big Four

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Promontory Summit

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

The Gold Spike

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Civil War’s Effect on the Transcontinental Railroad

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Travel to California

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Central Pacific Railroad

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Union Pacific Railroad

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Chinese and the Railroad

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Rail Travel/Westward Expansion

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Railroad economy

California State Railroad Museum Library & Archives

Driving the Last Spike, Thomas Hill, 1881.

California State Railroad Museum