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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Connecting a continent

The ceremony for the golden spike

The engineers shake hands

Across America

The great link

Devil's Gate bridge

Timetable and map

Railroad Construction Citadel Rock Wyoming

The Jupiter locomotive

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Golden Spike National Historic Site, Utah

Meeting of the two railroads

Who could lay the most track in a single day?

The controls of the Union Pacific's No. 119 train

Union Pacific train No. 119

The two trains

As the United States economy industrialized in the 19th century, there were two ways to get goods and people from the east to the other side of the continent: either load huge freight wagons for a rigorous journey over treacherous mountains before reaching the West Coast, or travel by boat around the tip of South America.

Industrialist Leland Stanford is credited for organizing an idea to build a new railroad infrastructure that would connect the still-young nation. So it was that Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads. Work began in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, and on May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah, the "golden spike" was driven connecting the two rail lines.

The connection bridged the 2,000 miles to the Missouri River, and the passage to the West was reduced to just six days.
Caption by / Photo by Library of Congress/Photo by Andrew Russell, 1869
Here's a photo of the ceremony for the golden spike, which connected the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads. It marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, May 10, 1869.
Caption by / Photo by Historic image, photographer unknown
An illustration in Harper's weekly, on June 5, 1869, shows the completion of the Pacific Railroad and the meeting of locomotives of the Union and Central Pacific lines as the engineers shake hands.
Caption by / Photo by Library of Congress/"Photographed by Savage & Ottinger, Salt Lake City."
The route of the first Transcontinental Railroad, with the Central Pacific railroad built from Sacramento in the west, is shown in red. The Union Pacific from Omaha in the east is shown in blue.
Caption by / Photo by Artwork by DanMS/GNU Free Documentation License
A graphic from "Views of Chinese" published in Harper's weekly in 1869 shows the completion of the Pacific Railroad, May 10, 1869. Chinese immigrants played a large role in the construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
Caption by / Photo by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
The Devil's Gate bridge in Georgetown, Utah, was washed out just a few days before the planned railroad meeting and Golden Spike Ceremony in 1869.
Caption by
Covers from the timetable and map for a publication called "The Great American Over-Land Route" for the Union and Central Pacific Railroad Line, published in 1881.
Caption by / Photo by Library of Congress
Construction of a railroad bridge near the rock formation known as Citadel Rock near Green River Valley, Wyo., in 1868.
Caption by / Photo by Library of COngress/A. J. Russell, 1868
Jupiter of the Central Pacific Railroad was one of the locomotives that met in the 1869 Golden Spike Ceremony in Utah, marking completion of America's first transcontinental railroad.

The American rail network did not run coast to coast until June 4, 1876, when a train named the Transcontinental Express arrived in San Francisco 83 hours and 39 minutes after it left New York City.
Caption by / Photo by Railarchive.net
Driving through open country on a gorgeous Utah day on the north side of the Great Salt Lake as part of his Road Trip 2009, CNET News reporter Daniel Terdiman discovered the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
A modern day meeting of the engines at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah, where the two lines of the transcontinental railroad joined on May 10, 1869.
Caption by / Photo by Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Here, you can see the meeting of the two railroads and the different kinds of ties used. The theory is that the ties from the West were superior due to the prevalence there of saw mills and abundant lumber.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
During the final weeks of the project to complete the Transcontinental Railroad, the crews working on each side competed to see who could lay the most track in a single day.

"In early April (1869), the Union Pacific laid 8.5 miles of track in one day," reads a National Park Service brochure. "The (Union Pacific) then bet the Central Pacific $10,000 that they could not better the record. On April 28, 1869, the CP won the bet!"
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Some of the controls of the Union Pacific's No. 119 train, which met nose-to-nose with the Central Pacific's Jupiter at the dedication of the Transcontinental Railroad 140 years ago.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Union Pacific train No. 119, which met the Central Pacific's Jupiter at Promontory Summit, as Congress decreed the site be called. No. 119 had crossed 1,086 miles to get to the first-ever meeting point of the two railroads.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
The two trains, the Central Pacific's Jupiter (left) and the Union Pacific's No. 119, are nose-to-nose at Promontory Summit, the site of the final meeting place of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
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