140 years ago, a transcontinental railroad connected by a golden spike

On this day, 140 years ago, the two great railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, enjoined their two tracks with a golden spike at Promontory, Utah, connecting Eastern and Western United States in one 2000 miles railroad track for the first time. This well-known but overlooked event in American history has unforeseeable consequences: the accelerated growth of the American economy for the next 50 years, the invention and distribution of electric light, the mass migration of European immigrants and African-Americans from the east to the west, the unfortunate reduction of Native American reservations, the remarkable contributions and sacrifices of Chinese and Mexican peoples, and the inspiration of a future industry: the automobile.

railroad-expansion-049b

Excerpt from EyeWitnesstoHistory.com:

When they came to drive the last spike, Governor Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, took the sledge, and the first time he struck he missed the spike and hit the rail.

What a howl went up! Irish, Chinese, Mexicans, and everybody yelled with delight. ‘He missed it. Yee.’ The engineers blew the whistles and rang their bells. Then Stanford tried it again and tapped the spike and the telegraph operators had fixed their instruments so that the tap was reported in all the offices east and west, and set bells to tapping in hundreds of towns and cities… Then Vice President T. C. Durant of the Union Pacific took up the sledge and he missed the spike the first time. Then everybody slapped everybody else again and yelled, ‘He missed it too, yow!’

It was a great occasion, everyone carried off souvenirs and there are enough splinters of the last tie in museums to make a good bonfire.

When the connection was finally made the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific engineers ran their engines up until their pilots touched. Then the engineers shook hands and had their pictures taken and each broke a bottle of champagne on the pilot of the other’s engine and had their picture taken again.

Since that day in 1869, the nation was forever changed.

Other references: “Driving the Last Spike”, Chinese-American Contributions to the Transcontinental Railroad ConstructionWikipedia: the Golden Spike, and Wikipedia: First Transcontinental Railroad.

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