Short History


Steam Train Advertisement

The Industrial Revolution started in England in the mid-1700s and spread to countries all around the world. Characterized by a shift from piecework production to factory production as the dominant method of manufacturing, the Industrial Revolution greatly impacted the United States. The Industrial Revolution transformed the transportation industry in the United States and ultimately led to the creation of the world's first transcontinental railroad.

The first transcontinental railroad would not have been possible without harnessing the power of steam. James Watt's improved steam engine led to the development of steam-powered locomotives.

Below is a sound clip of a steam train.

Railroad construction required tons of resources. Specifically, each mile of track "required 100 tons of steel rail, 2,500 ties, and 2 to 3 tons of metal pieces used to join individual track" ("Railroad Industry").

The Last Spike

On May 10, 1869, the tracks from the Union Pacific and Central Pacific finally joined at Promontory Summit, Utah. To celebrate the completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad, the companies held a golden-spike ceremony.

Golden Spike Ceremony

Timeline of the History of the Transcontinental Railroad 1

Date Event
1826 First American railroad (horse-drawn) opens in Massachusetts.
1840 There are 3,000 miles of railroad lines in the eastern United States.
1853 Congress authorizes a survey of the proposed Pacific Railroad.
1859 Abraham Lincoln and Greenville Dodge discuss the best route for a Pacific Railroad.
1861-5 The American Civil War.
1862 Congress passes (and Lincoln signs) the Pacific Railroad Act.
1863 Spetember 26, 1863 - Central Pacific begins contruction east from Sacramento, California.
1863 November 2, 1863 - Union Pacific breaks ground at Omaha, Nebraska, but lack of funding delays construction.
1865 Union Pacific lays its first track from Omaha. Central Pacific solves labor shortage by hiring Chinese construction workers.
1867 Central Pacific finishes the tunnel summit and crosses the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Union Pacific crosses the Rockies.
1867-8 Attacks on the railroad by Sioux, Cheyenne, and other Plains tribes causes the United States government to force the tribes onto reservations.
1869 May 10, 1869 - A ceremony marks the driving of the final spikes of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah.

1Timeline adapted from Linda Thompson's The Transcontinental Railroad.