First US transcontinental 149th birthday


The Golden Spike Ceremony on May 10, 1869

Lord Patel’s Eco Postman Patel blog deals with UK politics and geopolitics with the same degree of forelock tugging respect that Dyspozytor affords British and Polish politicians and senior railway managers. We didn’t see Lord Patel on our radar as someone interested in railways, so it was interesting to read his article about the days when the USA ‘rail lobby’ was as powerful as the banking, military and oil lobbies are today.

On May 10, 1869, two railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, joined 1,776 miles of transcontinental railway at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, in the Golden Spike Ceremony in what was extravagantly called “the wedding of the rails”.

Not only was this the summit of railway engineering achievement at the time it was also the first major Press / Public relations event designed with much hoopla to drum up both business but also shareholders and investors in what was a massive financial gamble.

It was the result of far seeing men and the plans outlined in Mr. J. J. Warner’s Report on Railroads to the Senate of California in early 1851 in which he stated:

that a Railroad, from some point on the Mississippi, or its tributaries, to some point on the bay of San Francisco, is the best route that can be adopted for the purpose of securing the Commerce of China and India; … to open a great national highway from California to the Atlantic coast, [and] would be a greater defence and protection than all other military works. It would also be the means of great daily intercourse between the East and West coast of this Republic, … to prevent those sectional feelings which have ever been the destruction of wide-extended governments. …[I]t is the duty of this Legislature to encourage the speedy building of a Railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the territory of the United States.”

Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, hoping to bind the Union’s East and West. The Pacific Railway Act gave each company loans from the Treasury of $16,000 for each mile of track laid in the flat plains, $32,000 for each mile of track laid in the Great Basin, and $48,000 for each mile of track laid in the mountains. It also provided for each company to receive 10 sections (6,400 acres) of public land grants, mineral rights excluded, on each side of the track for each mile of track built. – which is what excited the investors.

It united a nation (although a favoured more Southern route was ignored)and laid the foundations of east West trade which had previously been dominated by North / South river trading.

Theodore Dehone Judah was the chief engineer, lobbyist, railroader, and surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad. He was born in 1826 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and lived until 1863, dying in New York from yellow fever contracted during a visit to Panama, without seeing the completion of his dream, the first transcontinental railroad. Today is National Train Day in the US – Across the country, people are riding trains in record numbers. Amtrak reports 25.8 million passengers during fiscal year 2007, the most since the train system began operating in 1971

Age of Betrayal – The Triumph of Money

UPDATE : Useful introduction to the expansion of the railroads , the money made, the corruption and the characters who forged the basis of American capitalism are covered in Jack Beatty’s recently published Age of Betrayal– The Triumph of Money in America 1865 – 1900. Knopf . ISBN 97814000402855 Amazon

“Politicians in cahoots with railway executives made it simple. “Of the seventy-three men who held cabinet posts between 1868 and 1896,” Beatty calculates, “forty-eight either served railroad clients, lobbied for railroads, sat on railroad boards, or had railroad-connected relatives.” Plus ca change.

The above is only a part of a much longer article which can be read on its entirety on the Postman Patel blog here:

More infirmation and photographs are available at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum:

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3 Responses to “First US transcontinental 149th birthday”

  1. ziz Says:

    Lord Patel is in fact the great grandson of William Stroudley, engineer for the London brighton & South Coast raiwal, designer of “Gladstone” the first railway engine ever put in a museum and which is centrepiece of York Railway Museum, York, UK.

    He introduced electric lighting to trains,and much to the horror of British Victorian engineers uintroduced Westinghouse brakes to UK trains, which being made in our ex colonies were considered (at the time) inferior.

  2. dyspozytor Says:

    Thanks ziz, a great comment. You wouldn’t by any chance like to contribute the odd article to BTWT from time to time, or even join us?

  3. ziz Says:

    If you look , I do post very infrequently on railways / transport especially regarding German State owned railways runing UK freight with Romanian wagons and Canadian locos.

    Happy to join BTWT – what do I do ?

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