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Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad: Unification of Central Pacific and Union Pacific Tracks - May 1869 Golden Spike Ceremony
This iconic photo marks a historical moment for the nation when Central Pacific (from the west) and Union Pacific (from the east) celebrated the completion of their respective tracks and were symbolically joined with a ceremonial golden spike.
Marking the inauguration of the groundbreaking Transcontinental Railroad, the ceremony was a turning point intransnational commerce, travel, and westward expansion, development and migration. A mammoth undertaking, it took over 21,000 laborers, six years and $60 million dollars (over $1.2 billion dollars today) to lay by hand the 1776 miles of track required to join the east and west coasts of the U.S.
The first of its kind, the Transcontinental Railroad cut cross-country travel time to a week, and reduced the cost by 85%, opening the West to the rest of the world and vice versa. It fueled rapid expansion of industry and agriculture in the U.S., and was instrumental in the American market becoming the single largest market in the world. By 1880, it was transporting $50 million worth of freight each year and by the 1890s, the U.S. had the most powerful economy on the planet.
Press article attached to back of photo: PROMONTORY, Utah - May 10, 1869: "A team of Irish railheads swings one rail across the waiting ties; a team of Chinese, in clean blue jackets, swings the other. They slam iron spikes in place to hold the rails to the ties -- all except one, the laurel tie. From the western train, Central Pacific director Leland Stanford strides forward with a silver pated sledge hammer; from the eastern train steps Union Pacific vice president Thomas C. Durant. Both make brief speeches. A minister offers a prayer. Stanford and Durant stand over the laurel tie, smile, take up their sledges and drive home the silver and the gold spikes. Done. After the spike driving ceremony, a photographer, Andrew J. Russell, asked the two engineers of the railroads to step out front and shake hands. Samuel S. Montague of the Central Pacific and Grenville M. Dodge of the Union Pacific posed, hands clasped, and a moment in history was frozen on Russell's glass negative. After the photo champagne flowed, along with the Red Jacket and Blue Run, and inevitably, souvenir hunters carved up no fewer than six railroad ties for keepsake slivers. The laurel tie, along with the ceremonial spikes, had been safely removed.”