In which US state was the transcontinental railroad completed in 1869?

And the answer: Utah.    

Photo credit: public domain. 

On May 10 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in Promontory, Utah to drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connected their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in US history.

Before the construction of the transcontinental railroad, it was easier to travel to Europe from the Eastern United States than it was to get to California. Yet, in the middle of the 19th century, Americans began to set their sights on the uncharted Western landscape as a site of opportunity. For settlers looking to make this journey, however, it was nearly unfathomable. From about mid-way through Nebraska through to the Rocky Mountains lay so-called the American Desert: a harsh environment devoid of water or shelter, which travelers would be forced to traverse in covered wagon or on horseback.

Then, the Gold Rush hit. A Western fervor struck the American public, yet many were unable to even attempt the journey due to the great expanse which stretched between themselves and California. Thus, another, more appealing option began to gain steam (pun intended). Of the little railroad track that had been built but 1860, 96% lie east of Saint Louis, while the rest had been built in California alone.

Theodore Judah, the engineer behind much of the railroad that already existed, began to design a plan to connect the coasts. While nothing of that size had ever been attempted, Judah was able to successfully convince four Sacramento businessmen to invest in his fantastical idea. The Big Four, as they were known, got to work convincing congress, which ultimately was not as unrealistic of a feat as they had imagined. As the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln suffered major losses to the Confederate Army, as it was reinforced by soldiers arriving by train. Thus, just three months into the Civil War, Lincoln signed into law the Pacific Railroad Act, authorizing the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Yet, there was a catch. In signing the Act, Lincoln created a second party to begin construction from the East coast: the Union-Pacific Railroad Company. Designed to spur competition, each party was to begin construction on their respective coasts and meet in the middle in order to complete the railway. The companies' stakes were further increased by awarding mining rights to group which had laid track on that stretch of land.

Ultimately, the transcontinental railroad was completed in just six years. Learn more about its history and significance below.

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