In 1850 over 9,000 miles of track covered the Northeastern portions of the United States. By 1860 there were 30,000 miles, more than the rest of the world combined, and the tracks were extending to the Midwest.

As early as the 1840’s Congress began thinking about the possibility of constructing a transcontinental railroad. And then in 1848, with the discovery of gold in California, it became even more important.


Two companies got the contract. The California based Central Pacific started eastward, and the eastern based Union Pacific began in Omaha, Nebraska, moving west. In February of 1863 the great race began. For six years the two railroad giants headed toward each other. And on May 10, 1869 they met at Promontory, Utah.

 
Four special spikes were used for the ceremonial uniting of the rails…two gold, a silver, and one that was a blend of gold, silver and iron. The celebrities lined up to drive the spikes. After several misses, and several, not so subtle snickers from weather-hardened men who had been driving spikes for six years, at 2:47 p.m. the railroad was declared completed.
 
In Washington D.C. a magnetic ball on the Capitol dome fell. A 100-gun salute went off in New York City. The Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia. 7,000 Mormons celebrated in Salt Lake City. And in San Francisco a banner waved, stating “California Annexes the United States.”
 
You may ask, “What happened to the ceremonial spikes?” Well, as soon as everyone left the area they were pulled and replaced with iron ones. Another interesting fact… the railroad wasn’t actually completed on that date. In order to meet the completion deadline they had skipped building a bridge over the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs.

Filed under: Old West Myth & Fact

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