The First Transcontinental Railroad accelerated westward expansion at an explosive pace, and you can learn more about this innovative transportation method at the California Trail Interpretive Center. Step back into the past and discover how this railroad changed the method of emigration to Calfornia forever.

Travel Fueled By The Goldrush

Americans had been talking about creating an easier way to travel to California and Oregon, but the discovery of gold in 1848 fueled those conversations like never before. Ideas for a transcontinental rail line to connect the two halves of the nation were suggested, and routes had been considered for many years.

Finally, in the summer of 1862, the U.S. Congress voted for a rail line that would connect the populated eastern side of the nation to the fledgling new states out west. 

The New “Overland Route”

Almost everyone agreed that the western side of the Transcontinental Railroad would end in Sacramento, but there was some lengthy and lively debate about where the line would begin in the east. Eventually, Omaha, NE, would be the winner, and construction began. One side would be called the Central Pacific railroad and the other the Union Pacific.

Workers began building on each side of the nation and worked toward the meeting place – Promontory Point, UT. The rail line was completed with a huge celebration on May 10th, 1869. Governor Stanford famously drove in the Golden Spike to symbolically connect these two lines.

A Wonderous Accomplishment

The First Transcontinental Railroad was considered a marvelous feat – it changed travel forever. The impact on the California Trail was almost immediate. Few emigrants would choose the lengthy and dangerous wagon trail option to reach California when they could arrive in days on the train. 

The population in the west exploded, and the nation was connected, literally and figuratively. Want to know more? Here are some other fascinating Transcontinental Railroad facts:

  • The House of Representatives voted on the Pacific Railroad Act on May 6th, 1862.
  • Chinese immigrants built most of the Central Pacific track.
  • Construction of telegraph lines followed the progress of the track.
  • Governor Leland Stanford drove in the Golden Spike to complete the railroad on May 10th, 1869.
  • Each strike of the hammer on the 17.6-karat gold Golden Spike was sent as a telegraph click to offices nationwide – America’s first live “social media” event!

Positive & Negative Impacts

The cost to travel west became much more affordable, from about $1,000 to nearly $150. While the Transcontinental Railroad was one of the most positive accomplishments of its time, it also had some negative impacts. 

Not many people understood environmental damage in the 1860s, but we now know that many species and forms of wildlife were destroyed during the construction. Chinese laborers, who built the majority of the Central Pacific railroad, were often treated poorly and paid unfair wages. 

Native Americans, already facing the end of their way of life, saw it erode even more rapidly. European settlers swarmed into the western regions, and more skirmishes broke out. 

A Piece Of California Trail History

The First Transcontinental Railroad is another piece of the rich and diverse history of the California Trail. Plan a visit to the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, NV, to learn more about the trail and the settlement of America’s West. Contact us today to find out about special events and upcoming exhibits. 

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