The First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was
built across North America in the 1860s, linking the railway network of the
Eastern United States with California on the Pacific coast.
Ceremonially completed on May 10, 1869, at the famous “golden
spike” event at Promontory Summit, Utah, it created a nationwide mechanized
transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the
The Sacramento Valley Railroad was the first commercial railroad west of the
Mississippi and, like so many other similar proposals of the 1850’s, its
promoters held high hopes that it would become the western leg of the first
transcontinental railroad when it would be built. The Sacramento Valley Railroad
carried the Pony Express mail between Sacramento and Folsom, California, a
distance of 22 miles. The Sacramento Valley Railroad had been completed in 1856.
The Sacramento Valley Railroad led directly to the building of the
transcontinental railroad. As a result of the 22 miles of track to Folsom, laws
were passed that eased railroad financing. The Sacramento Valley Railroad lost
out to the Central Pacific as the all-important transcontinental railroad was
routed through Roseville instead of Folsom.
The Central Pacific began laying track eastward from Sacramento, California
in 1863, and the Union Pacific started laying track westward from Omaha,
Nebraska, two years later in July, 1865. The Central Pacific laid 690 miles
(1,110 km) of track, starting in Sacramento, California, and continuing through
California (Newcastle and Truckee), Nevada (Reno, Wadsworth, Winnemucca, Battle
Mountain, Elko, Humboldt-Wells), and ending in Utah Territory. Later, the route
was extended to the Alameda Terminal in Alameda, California, and shortly
thereafter, to the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point in Oakland, California.
The building of the railway required enormous feats of engineering and labor
in the crossing of plains and high mountains by the Union Pacific Railroad and
Central Pacific Railroad, the two privately chartered federally backed
enterprises that built the line westward and eastward respectively. The building
of the railroad was motivated in part to bind the Union together during the
strife of the American Civil War. It substantially accelerated the populating of
the West by homesteaders, while contributing to the decline of the Native
Americans in these regions.
The railroad was considered the greatest American 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 late 19th century United States.