Study Guide

Transcontinental Railroad Timeline

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Dec 19, 2019

Transcontinental Railroad Proposal

Asa Whitney's proposal for a transcontinental railroad comes before Congress, but sectional rivalries have created a political stalemate regarding the issue of a Pacific railroad. The proposal goes nowhere.

Sep 9, 1850

California Admitted to the Union

California is admitted to the Union as the 30th—and free—state.

Jun 1, 1859

Silver Discovered in Comstock Lode

The discovery of vast silver deposits in the Comstock Lode at Virginia City, Nevada brings hordes of prospectors to the Sierra Nevada and re-ignites the mining boom of the forty-niners' Gold Rush.

Jul 1, 1860

Judah Reaches Donner Pass

Engineer Theodore Judah reaches the Donner Pass in the Sierras, and his survey identifies it as the ideal route for the Pacific Railroad.

Nov 1, 1860

The Big Four

After meeting with Judah, Sacramento merchant and businessman Collis P. Huntington brings in the four other principle investors—Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, James Bailey, and Charles Crocker—in the Central Pacific. These six men establish themselves as the new line's first board of directors.

Oct 1, 1861

Central Pacific Lobbies

Having completed his surveys, Judah and his wife go east to Washington to lobby for funds and appropriations for the Central Pacific.

Jul 1, 1862

Pacific Railway Act

Lincoln signs the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing the Central Pacific to build a California line east from Sacramento and establishing the Union Pacific Railroad Company with a mandate to build west from the Missouri River. Significantly, no meeting point is set, but the bill does promise the lines 6,400 acres of land and $48,000 in government bonds for each mile built.

Jan 8, 1863

Leland Stanford Breaks Ground

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Central Pacific is held in Sacramento, California. The first shovel of earth is lifted by newly elected California Governor Leland Stanford (who sits on the CP board, as well).

Oct 26, 1863

Central Pacific Begins

The Central Pacific Railroad Company spikes its first rails to ties.

Oct 30, 1863

Doc Durant and the Union Pacific

Thomas "Doc" Durant uses the leverage of his controlling interest in the Union Pacific Railroad Company to have himself appointed as vice president and general manager.

Nov 2, 1863

Theodore Judah Dies

After financial and managerial disputes with the other CP directors drive him back east to look for new investors, Theodore Judah falls ill and dies in New York City.

Dec 2, 1863

Union Pacific Groundbreaking

The Union Pacific celebrates its groundbreaking in Omaha, Nebraska.

Jul 1, 1864

Pacific Railway Act Revised

Influenced by a massive lobbying effort that involved the distribution by "Doc" Durant (among others) of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and railroad bond largesse, Congress revises the Pacific Railway Act to double land grants, pass control of all natural resources located along the lines to the railroads themselves, and remove the existing limitations on individual stock ownership in the companies.

Oct 1, 1864

Credit Mobilier Handles UP Contract

The Union Pacific construction contract is signed over to "Durant's new company, Crédit Mobilier of America. Consequently, Durant—who is also the general manager of the UP—can now pay himself to construct the line and reap huge personal profits well before any trains are running.

Nov 29, 1864

Sand Creek Massacre

Cavalry led by Colonel John Chivington slaughter at least 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho (largely women and children) in what becomes known as the "Sand Creek Massacre" in Colorado Territory.

Jan 7, 1865

Retaliation at Julesburg

Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors raid and burn the town of Julesburg in retaliation for the massacre at Sand Creek 39 days earlier.

Jan 1, 1865

Oakes Ames and Credit Mobilier

President Abraham Lincoln persuades Senator Oakes Ames of Massachusetts to help manage the Union Pacific, telling him that if he does so, Ames will be "the remembered man of his generation." Ames promptly invests in Durant's Crédit Mobilier and leads other Washington insiders to do the same.

Jan 1, 1865

Chinese Workers on Central Pacific

Central Pacific contractor Charles Crocker decides to employ Chinese workers in an attempt to shore up the rapid turnover in his predominantly Irish labor force.

Apr 9, 1865

Civil War Veterans Head West

The Civil War ends with the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant. Thousands of demobilized soldiers soon head west looking for work and finding it on the railroad.

Apr 14, 1865

Lincoln Assassination

President Abraham Lincoln, one of the transcontinental railroad's staunchest supporters, is assassinated.

Jul 10, 1865

Union Pacific Lays First Rail

The first Union Pacific rails are laid in Omaha, Nebraska.

Feb 1, 1866

Railroad Discipline

Doc Durant hires General Jack Casement as the Union Pacific construction boss. Gen. Casement brings the military's penchant for discipline and mass organization to the line.

May 1, 1866

Grenville Dodge and Union Pacific

Durant brings on General Grenville Dodge as chief engineer of the Union Pacific.

Jul 1, 1866

Jack Casement Drives West

Casement drives the Union Pacific to lay 60 miles of track in a month.

Oct 6, 1866

100th Meridian Excursion

Durant throws a lavish party to celebrate the Union Pacific reaching the 100th meridian. The "100th Meridian Excursion" features, among other things, a mock attack by friendly Pawnee tribesmen for the entertainment of guests.

Nov 1, 1866

Hell on Wheels

Union Pacific construction stops for the winter at the town of North Platte, Nebraska, which shortly explodes into the first of the Hell on Wheels towns, the notoriously violent mobile encampments of dance halls, saloons, and gambling dens that would follow the UP all the way to Utah.

May 1, 1867

Durant Resigns from Union Pacific

After presiding over years of mismanagement, shady financial dealings, and agonizingly fitful construction, Durant is forced to resign from his position on the Union Pacific board. One step ahead of his opponents, Durant initiates a legal battle that further stalls construction of the line.

Jun 25, 1867

Chinese Railroad Strike

Chinese workers on the Central Pacific bring work on the Sierra tunnels to a halt when they strike for better hours and wages. Crocker starves out the strike, and the men return to work a week later at the same wage.

Dec 1, 1867

Credit Mobilier Dividend

Crédit Mobilier announces a large stock dividend, and Oakes Ames distributes 190 shares of company stock, most of them to colleagues in Congress who are eager to get in on the deal.

Jun 18, 1868

First Passenger Train Crosses Sierras

The first passenger train to cross the Sierras on the Central Pacific route arrives in Reno.

Jan 1, 1869

The Last Hell on Wheels

Corinne, Utah is founded along the Union Pacific line. Corinne will be the last of the real Hell on Wheels towns.

Apr 8, 1869

Promontory Summit Agreed

After months of lobbying and botched negotiation by the UP and the CP, two solid days of argument between Grenville Dodge and Collis Huntington finally settle the lines on a meeting point. They will converge at Promontory Summit, Utah territory.

Apr 28, 1869

Crocker Wins Bet

Charles Crocker's Central Pacific construction crews lay a staggering one-day total of ten miles of track, enough for Crocker to win a $10,000 bet with carrying Durant on whose men could lay more track in a day.

May 6, 1869

Unpaid Workers Block Durant

Unpaid workers block the line and stop the car carrying Thomas Durant to Promontory Summit. The workers demand $200,000 in back pay and hold Durant for two days.

May 10, 1869

Golden Spike at Promontory Point

The first transcontinental railroad is officially completed, as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines join some 1,700 miles of track connecting to the eastern networks. Representatives of both railroads take turns driving the final golden spike into the ground during a ceremony at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory.

Sep 4, 1872

Credit Mobiler Scandal

Newspapers break the Crédit Mobilier scandal, alleging massive fraud by carrying Durant and his associates and the sale of political influence by many members of the government.

Feb 1, 1873

Credit Mobilier Investigation

Congressional investigation into the Crédit Mobilier scandal and the finances of the UP and CP lines produces public disillusionment with the railroads and elected officials. Little is handed down in the way of punishment other than the censure of a couple of congressmen. Only Oakes Ames is ruined by association with the scandal.

Dec 19, 1880

Railroad Expansion

Total miles of railroad track in the United States reaches three times the 1860 total.

May 6, 1882

Chinese Exclusion Act

Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting any further immigration of Chinese citizens to the United States. The heroic role that Chinese labor played in constructing the transcontinental railroad seems to have been forgotten.

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