Transcontinental Railroad Timeline
How It All Went Down
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.
California Free State
California is admitted to the Union as the 30th state.
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.
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.
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.
Pacific Railroad Bill
Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Bill, 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.
Leland Stanford Groundbreaking
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).
Central Pacific Begins
The Central Pacific Railroad Company spikes its first rails to ties.
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.
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.
Union Pacific Groundbreaking
The Union Pacific celebrates its groundbreaking in Omaha, Nebraska.
Revised Pacific Railroad Bill
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 Railroad Bill 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.
Credit Mobilier 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.
Sand Creek Massacre
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.
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.
Chinese Workers on Central Pacific
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.
President Abraham Lincoln, one of the transcontinental railroad's staunchest supporters, is assassinated.
Union Pacific Lays First Rail
The first Union Pacific rails are laid in Omaha, Nebraska.
Grenville Dodge and Union Pacific
Jack Casement Drives West
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.
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.
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.
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.
Credit Mobilier Dividend
First Passenger Train Crosses Sierras
The first passenger train to cross the Sierras on the Central Pacific route arrives in Reno.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Credit Mobiler Scandal
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.
Total miles of railroad track in the United States reaches three times the 1860 total.
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.