Where did the first transcontinental railroad end

150 years ago in the USAOpening of the first transcontinental railway line

May 10, 1869 was a sunny Monday at Promontory Summit. Many onlookers came to the high plateau on the Great Salt Lake in Utah to witness a historic moment: the connection of the California coast in the west with the Atlantic Ocean in the east by the first transcontinental rail line. The presidents of the Central Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific railroad companies solemnly shook hands in the thunderstorm of flashlights and California Governor Leland Stanford put a golden nail in the last threshold. An Illustrated Newspaper reporter raved:

"A journey through the prairie used to be a huge undertaking that required a lot of patience and perseverance. Now it no longer takes six months, but less than a week. The covered wagon is a thing of the past. In its place is the railway wagon with all its amenities. "

Investors were put off by the enormous cost

A railroad network already existed in the east, but it only stretched from the Atlantic to Omaha on the Missouri River. From there, about 2,600 kilometers of rail connection to Sacramento were missing. This route led through sparsely populated wilderness and over the mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. But the enormous construction costs had repeatedly deterred investors from completing this missing section, according to North America historian Sönke Kunkel from the Free University of Berlin.

"Although the country had been in the railroad bug since the 1830s and 1840s, it had the largest rail network in the world, but that also meant that companies kept going bankrupt and the construction of railway lines had to be canceled accordingly."

Large grants from the state and lands

Because of this, the Lincoln government had given the construction huge financial incentives. The railway companies received government bonds, large grants on the difficult construction sections and land on both sides of the tracks for every mile completed.

"Which then leads to strange situations again and again, that the board members of the railway companies approach their engineers and ask them whether they might not be able to add another loop here, or there another loop in the route, because you can add new ones Can also rake in government bonds and new lands. "

Twelve years had been estimated to build the transcontinental railroad, but the competing companies, which had agreed to meet halfway in Utah, completed the workload in half the time. Thousands of civil war veterans, liberated slaves, gold diggers, settlers, Chinese workers, Irish and German immigrants built wooden bridges with muscle power and dynamite under high pressure, filled gorges and built tunnels.

The expulsion of the Native Americans

They lived in three-story wagons that tirelessly moved towards each other on the completed routes. Snow storms or avalanches in the high mountains and accidents during blasting work cost the lives of many workers. Soldiers were brought in to protect the construction crews from raids on Sioux and Cheyenne, whose habitats were destroyed by the construction of the railway. These scenarios do not only appear in many Hollywood classics.

"If you look at the historiography, you will often find a heroic tale. It's always about the boldness of engineers and the visions of politics, but there is also the other side ... for example the social tragedy of the expulsion of the natives Americans. And last but not least, the construction of the transcontinental railroad lays the foundation for the reservation system that will be established in the late 1880s and early 1890s. "

30 million bison stood in the way

The military was used not only to defend the railroad lines, but also to get rid of the 30 million or so bison that literally stood in the way of progress.

A century and a half later, American railroaders have little reason to celebrate. Cars and planes have long outstripped steam horses. The transcontinental route is now mainly used for freight and rail tourists traveling from New York or Chicago to San Francisco and, if the train is on time, can see an unforgettable sunrise in the Rocky Mountains.