During the 19th century, USA had rapidly expanded towards the West. Although thousands of Americans traveled towards the west and established towns and settlements there, there was a severe lack of proper roads and infrastructure. If someone wanted to travel from the eastern states to somewhere in the West, it was a tough, hard and long journey.
For this purpose, the US government decided to have a transcontinental railroad built. Such a railroad would stretch from the eastern states all the way to the western edge of USA and would allow people to rapidly travel even to the distant parts of the West.
The US government under the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln signed a law in 1962 to begin the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The government decided that there would be two railroad lines. One of these, called the Union Pacific Railroad, would start in the Midwest and go towards the west.
The second main line, called the Central Pacific Railroad, would start in the extreme western state of California and move towards the east. The two lines would meet in the middle and complete a single railroad link all the way from the Midwest to California. Actual work on the railroad started in 1863.
The U.S. government decided to allow private companies to build the railroad for the government. For this purpose, the government allocated lands to these companies and paid them for each mile of railroad they laid down. The Central Pacific Railroad was controlled by four men. These were Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins. They were collectively called the ‘Big Four’.
Constructing a railroad over such a long distance was not an easy job. The railroad companies working on it had to face many obstacles. The Central Pacific Railroad line had to pass through difficult terrains including the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was accomplished by blasting long tunnels through these mountains, allowing a train to pass through.
Because of such hard work, the progress on the construction of the railroad was slow and costly. The Union Pacific Railroad, on the other hand, had to face attacks from the Native American tribes. These tribes knew that one the railroad was constructed, more and more American settlers would start coming into their lands. So they tried to slow down the progress of railroad construction by attacking it at different places. Despite all these problems, work on the railroad slowly and steadily continued.
It took many years for the transcontinental railroad to be completed. It was finally completed in 1869. A proper ceremony took place at the official completion of the railroad. At this ceremony, the governor of California Leland Stanford drove in the last spike.
This spike later came to be called the ‘Golden Spike’. In all, the First Transcontinental Railroad covered a total of 1776 miles. It followed the traditional Oregon Trail and the main line of the railroad stretched from Omaha to California. Later, a southern route was added to the railroad which connected Texas to California.