North America

First Transcontinental Railroad

The history of telecommunications in the United States of America is one that has spanned many centuries. While today, we see communications possible from the Earth to the moon, from one end of the planet to the other, within the matter of a few seconds, this was not the case some time back. The farther back we go in history, the better we understand how technology has positively changed our life. In the United States, the earliest improvement in the sphere of telecommunication came in the form of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The United States of America’s First Transcontinental Railroad came to be constructed in the 1860s, which lead to the creation of a link between the ongoing developments of the railway network along the Eastern coast with California. The First Transcontinental Railroad, which saw its completion on 10 May 1869, gave to the United States of America to feel even more united and one. With such a transportation network that spanned across the nation, the American West was never going to be the same ever again.

Started under the leadership of the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad was one of the most glorious achievements of the time. Unfortunately, Abe Lincoln did not live to see its completion of the project, as he was assassinated four year earlier. The railroad was constructed using the strengths of two companies; while the Union Pacific Railroad worked on the direction westward of the line, the Central Pacific Railroad continued the construction eastward.

The main reason that the Railroad came into play was in order to join the state of California with the Union, during the period of the Civil War in America. With the building of the Railroad, the place saw an increase in population by the day with many numbers of white homesteaders, and those who were slaves earlier moving to the regions. Unfortunately, this meant a loss of the culture of the native population of the regions. With the growth of this region, came the sad declining of the native tribes of America itself.

Many people, including the greatest of historians and researchers can swear that the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was the greatest technological and engineering advancement that was made in the 19th century. With the growth of the transcontinental railroad, came the decline also of the use of the wagon trains, the Pony Express and the Stagecoach Lines, which comparatively, were much more hazardous of earlier days.

The route that was made use of was the previous Oregon, Mormon and California Trails route. From the city of Omaha, in Nebraska, it went along the Platte River, then crossing along the Northern Utah and Nevada, it went over the Rocky Mountains at South Pass in Wyoming. From there it crossed through the Sierra Mountains, reaching Sacramento in California. However, one thing that was done on purpose was to stop these lines from directly connecting to the two largest cities of the Great American Desert; the cities of Denver in Colorado and Salt Lake City in Utah. In order to reach this place, one would, in that time, have to go on the feeder lines that connected to those two cities or any other city not connected on the main line. along the period of time in which the railroad was built, the Central Pacific put in place 690 miles of tracks, and started their work in Sacramento, California. On the other hand, the Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles of tracks and began their work in Omaha, Nebraska.

It was on 8 January 1863 that Governor Leland Stanford laid the first ground breaking in Sacramento, California, in order to signal the start of the work o the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific is said to have made a good amount of progress all along the Sacramento Valley. Unfortunately, the work that ensued was laborious and slow. In addition, geographical reasons only made work more difficult. The first geographical obstacle for them came in the form of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, followed by the unending mountains. As if this were not bad enough, the weather conditions in the region were extremely unforgiving too. The only thing to do was to start tunneling work on the mountains. However, this again was a process that would be slow and rigorous. The Central Pacific started making use of the recently invented and comparatively unstable nitro-glycerin explosives. These explosives not only hastened the tunneling process, they also led to the increase in the laborer’s mortality chances. Deeply disturbed by the loss of their laborers, the Central Pacific had to start the employment of explosives that were much less dangerous. They also made use of a technique though which they placed the blaster in a basket, suspended by a rope, which could be pulled the instant that the fuse of the explosive was lit.

The enabling legislation for the Union Pacific required that no partner was to own more than 10 percent of the stock. However, the major investor was Thomas Clark Durant, who had made his stake money by smuggling Confederate cotton. Durant put up the money for stock in proxy’s names and controlled about half the stock of the railroad.

According to the legislation that were put in place, the Union Pacific, one of the main companies in the railroad building projects, could not get into a partnership where the stock of the partner were more than ten percent. Thomas Clark Durant was one of the main people who worked on this project. The stake money that was required for the stake in the company’s partnership was procured by him by selling cotton that had been smuggled by from the Confederate. He bought stocks in a number of different proxy names, and hence, became the owner of close to fifty percent of the stocks for the creation of the railroad.

The earliest construction took place on land, which was under Durant’s ownership. This was in the region near Omaha. The payment for the railroad was done by the mile, which meant that for the first two and a half years, there was creation of extra tracks within Omaha itself, leading to the procuring of more money. The supervision of the government became only stronger after the end of the Civil War. This meant that the tracks had to be made at a faster rate, and also the laying of tracks started going westwards. The lease for the construction of the remaining track was given to a company called Crédit Mobilier, which again was under the umbrella of companies that Durant owned.

Towards the west, initially the process of the track laying happened at quite a fast rate. This was because the terrain was a plain one; this was the land of the Plains. One of the first problems they came across continuing towards the west was the fact that they had to pass through the lands that was that of the Native Americans. In the eyes of the Native Americans, of the regions, the passing of the railroad, or any other external activity that would hamper their life in any way would be a violation of the many treatises that were formulated between the United States of America and the Native Americans. One of the steps taken by the Native Americans to make their stance stronger was to attack the camps where the laborers would reside. This made the work on the railroad go even slower, and spread fear in the laborers. This problem was taken care of by the Union Pacific by getting better security for its workers and interests. Another step that they undertook was to hire a large number of expert shooters so that that they would hunt down American Bison. The killings of the bison were done for two reasons; first, the bison was a physical danger to the trains that would come on the tracks; second, the bison was a source of food for the people of the native lands. With an attack on their source of food, the native Americans realized that getting in the way of the people of the United States was not in the best interests of their people and community. From then on the work process on the railroad lone continued smoothly.

Six years had already passed with the work on the railroad going through many stages of development. At Promontory Summit, Utah laborers of both, the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east came face to face. The Golden Spike, or the Final Spike was driven through by Governor Stanford on 10 May, 1869. This symbolized the completion of the work on the first transcontinental railroad. One fact that most people of the time did not realize was that the spike was not made out of pure gold, but was only gold-plated. The reason for not using a spike made of pure gold would be the fact that gold would be too soft to use in such a place, and also because it was not malleable.

This was said to be the first mass media event to have happened around the world. Both the hammer and the spike were connected to the telegraph line so that when the hammer hit the head of the spike, it would be heard as a click on telegraph stations throughout the nation. This however, turned out to be a failed attempt at mass media, as the clicks reached the operator of the telegraph, and they could not be passed at the same rate to the rest of the receivers. A failed attempt, nonetheless, one that could be truly applauded for the genius who thought of it.

In order that the people of the nation realized that the work was complete, the moment the golden spike was removed and the regular spike made out of iron was fixed, a telegraphic message was sent to both the coasts. The message had but one word: “DONE”. The second this message was sent out, and reached the rest of the people, the country resounded with the sound of jubilation.

From a journey that would have otherwise lasted six months or more, Americans could now go the distance within the period of a week. This however, was not extent of the railroad line. The network of train lines still had not become a train line connecting the Atlantic or the Pacific. The line that had been created just connected the cities of Sacramento and Omaha. November 1869 was the month and the year that the Sacramento Line was extended all the way to San Francisco Bay in Oakland.

A journey across the entire distance across the continent would be complete only by crossing the Missouri River. Since there were no bridges built that were until then, the entire train would be ferried across. The first bridge that was built across the Missouri river was the Kansas City’s Hannibal Bridge. The month of August 1870 saw the connection between the Kansas Pacific Line and the Denver Pacific line at Strasburg in Colorado. This was the first real Atlantic to Pacific Railroad to ever be completed. The East Coast and the West Coast had finally been connected, the divide bridged and lined, quite literally. One of the first journeys to be made on the Transcontinental Railroad was by an express train named the Transcontinental Express. This train left from New York City, and reached San Francisco roughly three and a half days later. This was on the Fourth of July, 1876.