Their labor force consisted primarily of Irish workers and Civil War veterans. The greatest danger posed to workers was a constant threat of attacks by Plains Indians — or their fellow workers. As they moved across the plains, temporary encampments would spring near the tracks. The Central Pacific, meanwhile, had to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. Accomplishing this feat required a labor force of thousands of Chinese workers who used hand tools and explosives and at times could only build one foot of tunnel in a day. The Central Pacific broke through the Sierras in the summer of , and although the Union Pacific had laid four times as much track the Central Pacific began a rapid push across the Great Basin.
Both companies were aiming squarely for Ogden in the Utah territory, which they saw as the future crossroads for the west. By , the two companies were within miles of each other and agreed to connect their rails at Promontory Summit. That event happened on May 10, Completing the transcontinental railroad had immediate impacts.
The formerly isolated West could now be reached by train. It also provided a symbolic unification for a country only four years removed from the Civil War. Source: Utah History To Go Historians agree that the driving of the golden spike marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on 10 May was one of the most important events in United States history, as it was also in Utah history. In fact, is considered to be a benchmark year in Utah history—the pioneer era coming to an end with the coming of the railroad.
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Brigham Young, as community leader and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, foresaw the impact that the coming of the railroad would have and wanted the transcontinental rail line built through Salt Lake City. He was aware of the role that a railroad could play in tying a community together as well as connecting a region with the outside world.
After representatives of both the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific met with him and explained the difficulty and extra expense of a route through Salt Lake City, Young accepted the decision and helped wherever he could to speed the completion of the project, including arranging for the use of local contractors for the construction of the tracks across the territory.
The construction of a connecting railroad line south to Salt Lake City, and later into almost all parts of the state, had a much larger impact on the local populace than did the joining of the rails at Promontory. In early , prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Mormon Church leaders began working on the organization of a connecting railroad between Ogden and Salt Lake City.
In January that line was completed, connecting Salt Lake City to the national rail system. One of the benefits that the Mormon Church received from the coming of the railroad was the availability of low-cost transportation that would help to bring large numbers of its members to the new Zion. From places as distant as Europe, new members came by way of the ports of call along the East and Gulf coasts. Twenty years later, Union Pacific had become the largest railroad company in the territory. Solid granite peaks soared to 14, feet in elevation. The railroad bed snaked through passes at more than 7, feet.
The men who came from humid south China labored through two of the worst winters on record, surviving in caverns dug beneath the snow. They blasted out 15 tunnels, the longest nearly 1, feet. To speed up the carving of the tunnels, the Chinese laborers worked from several directions. After opening portals along the rock face on either side of the mountain, they dug an foot shaft down to the estimated midway point.
From there, they carved out toward the portals, doubling the rate of progress by tunneling from both sides. It still took two years to accomplish the task. In June , they protested. Three-thousand workers along the railroad route went on strike, demanding wage parity, better working conditions and shorter hours. At the time it was the largest worker action in American history.
History Of The Transcontinental Railroad | Spike
After the Sierra, the Chinese workers faced the blistering heat of the Nevada and Utah deserts, yet they drove ahead at an astonishing rate. As they approached the meeting point with the Union Pacific, thousands of them laid down a phenomenal 10 miles of track in less than 24 hours, a record that has never been equaled.
Progress came at great cost: Many Chinese laborers died along the Central Pacific route. The company kept no records of deaths. But soon after the line was completed, Chinese civic organizations retrieved an estimated 1, bodies along the route and sent them home to China for burial. Politicians pointed to the achievement as they declared the United States the leading nation of the world. The transcontinental railroad has been viewed in a similarly nationalistic way ever since.
Chinese workers were often left out of the official story because their alienage and suffering did not fit well with celebration. And attitudes toward them soon soured, with anti-Chinese riots sweeping the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of barred Chinese laborers from entering the United States and placed restrictions on those already here.