Promontory Point Utah May 10, 1869

The Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah completing the transcontinental railroad.

The connection of the two rail lines was celebrated with the hammering in of a silver and golden spike. 

Former California Gov. Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, said this, acording to the New York Times:

“The Pacific Railroad companies accept with pride and satisfaction these golden and silver tokens of your appreciation of the importance of our enterprise to the material interests of the sections which you represent on this occasion, and to the material interests of our whole country, East and West, North and South.

“These gifts shall receive a fitting place in the superstructure of our road. And, before laying the ties and driving the spikes in completion of the Pacific Railway, allow me to express the hope that the great importance which you are pleased to attach to our undertaking may be in all respects fully realized.  Now, gentlemen, with your assistance, we will proceed to lay the last tie and rail, and drive the last spike.”

While Union Pacific executive Dr.Thomas Durant hammered in a silver spike, former Gov. Leland Stanford, president of Central Pacific, hammered in the golden spike into a tie made of California laurel at 12:47 pm, signaling the completion. The New York Times described it this way:

“Governor Stanford stood on the south rail, Dr. Durant on the north rail, and, on the signal of “OK” from the telegraph offices, both gentlemen struck the spikes, and the work was done.

“The vast multitude cheered lustily, and Dr. Durant and Governor Stanford cordially greeted each other and shook hands. The doctor proposed three cheers for the Central Pacific Company, which was followed by the governor proposing three cheers for the Union Pacific Company.”

Then “Jupiter,” Central Pacific’s locomotive, which faced eastward, touched fenders with “No. 119,” the Union Pacific’s west-facing locomotive.

President Abraham Lincoln had signed legislation authorizing creation of the rail line in 1862.

Stanford turned the first shovel of dirt for the Central Pacific on January 8, 1863 at the bottom of K Street in Sacramento, near the Sacramento River.

The Union Pacific began two years later in Omaha, going west.

After two years of construction, only 50 miles of Central Pacific track had been laid.

Central Pacific needed 5,000 workers to take the rail line through the Sierras but had only 600 on the company payroll in 1864.

Chinese laborers, who had helped build the California Central Railway that ran along the Feather River to Marysville, were hired by Central Pacific.

They were paid $28 per month to blast tunnels and lay track through the high mountains.

By summer 1868, 4,000 workers – two-thirds of them Chinese – succeeded in building a railroad that rose 7,000 feet in 100 miles and came down into the Central Plains beyond.

The railroad allows someone to make the trip from New York to Sacramento in one week.

Previously, the journey took nearly six months.

Two days before the ceremony at Promontory Point, California Gov. Henry Haight predicted in a Sacramento speech:

“Tourists will be attracted by the most sublime scenery on the continent and thousands will come to repair physical constitutions racked by the extremes of climate, inclement air and the miasma of the states east of the mountains.”


Filed under: California History


  1. Greg great article. I believe President Lincoln would have been very very old in 1962! But nice to know he could still start a massive rail project.

    Comment by john mockler — 5.11.2012 @ 7:19 am

  2. Would anybody care to speculate if this project could be authorized, funded and built today? Not only would the EIR process, including litigation, take a century, the money required would probably not be appropriated without corresponding tax cuts and a millenial fight over design build, prevailing wages, and eminent domain. Think of High Speed Rail. Or the Delta Water Fight.

    Comment by lotuslover — 5.11.2012 @ 8:50 am

  3. This blog give me some important history info, About which I knew not at all.

    Comment by railroad companies — 5.25.2012 @ 4:02 am

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