Friday, May 10, 2019

East meets west, May 10, 1869

On May 10, 1869 a ceremonial golden spike was driven at Promontory, Utah signifying the completion of the first North American transcontinental railroad.  The Central Pacific building from Sacramento in the west met the Union Pacific building from Omaha in the east and connected the eastern railroad network with the Pacific coast for the first time in history. 150 years ago today, the east met the west and forever changed the landscape of the continent.  

In the colder latitudes, it would be another 14 years before a northern transcontinental was completed.  The Northern Pacific connected Minnesota with the Pacific coast, initially via the Columbia River, but a few years after completion, via Stampede Pass and Tacoma.  The Northern Pacific Railroad drove their last spike near Independence Creek in western Montana on August 22, 1883, and hosted a formal "golden spike" event on September 8, 1883.  At this ceremony, instead of a gold or silver spike, the very first spike driven in 1870 in the construction of the Northern Pacific was redriven by three men:  railroad President Henry Villard, former President of the United States Ulysses S Grant, and Henry C. Davis, who helped drive that spike the first time, 13 years earlier.

Like the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, the Northern Pacific had a brief but tight stranglehold on commerce in the Northwest because they had a monopoly.  Yet, just ten years later, both the Canadian Pacific Railway (to Vancouver) and the Great Northern Railway (to Everett & Seattle) had also completed transcontinentals to the Northwest.  Soon, the cost of freight and travel declined and the level of service improved.

Fast forward 150 years.  Transportation in the 21st Century is very different than the 19th Century.  Competition is generally between different modes of transportation, and the relative cost of transportation is at its lowest point in history.  Despite all the change, the original Union Pacific Railroad remains in business today, though trains no longer operate through Promentory.  Congratulations to the Union Pacific Railroad in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike!

2 comments:

Henry Jurk said...
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Henry Jurk said...
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