A Timeline History of the
Transcontinental Railroads
in North America

The Union Pacific Railroad Company The Central Pacific Railroad of California

John Plumbe sent petition to Washington, possibly the first request/recommendation for a transcontinental railroad.

Asa Whitney sent memo to congress recommending that a survey for a transcontinental railroad between the 42nd and 45th parallels be made as soon as possible.

March 1, 1853
Congress authorizes Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to use the Corps of Topographical Engineers to conduct surveys to ascertain the "most practical and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean."
August 1853
President Franklin Pierce orders Commissioner of Indian Affairs George W. Moneypenny to negotiate with indians for purchase of lands for a railroad. Between 1854 and 1857, treaties are made with the Omaha, Oto and Missouri, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Delaware and Shawnee.

Army Corps of Engineers Survey possible routes to the Pacific coast.

June 28, 1861
The Central Pacific Railroad of California incorporated.
  • Collis P. Huntington (President)
  • Charles Crocker
  • Lelend Stanford
  • Mark Hopkins (Treasurer)
Theodore D. Judah named Chief Engineer.

July 1, 1862
President Abraham Lincoln signed the "Act to Aid in the Construction of a Railroad and Telegraph Line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean." The Union Pacific Railroad Company established and authorized to construct "a single line of railroad and telegraph from a point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa to be fixed by the President of the United States." Upon completion of forty consecutive miles of any part of the railroad, the company would receive title to five alternate sections of land on each side of the line and "bonds of the United States of one thousand dollars each, payable in thirty years after date, bearing six per centum per annum interest ... to the amount of 16 said bonds per mile." The Central Pacific was authorized to construct a railroad from the Pacific coast to the eastern boundary of California under the same terms and conditions as the UP.
September 1862
68 of the original "commissioners" of the Union Pacific assembled in Chicago, electing William P. Ogden of Chicago as President, and Henry V. Porter, editor of Railroad Journal as secretary.

Thomas Durant, scheming to gain power in the Union Pacific, acquires control of the majority of the outstanding stock.
January 8, 1863
The Central Pacific held ground breaking ceremonies in Sacramento.
October 30, 1863
At the organizational meeting of the Union Pacific in New York, Thomas Durant gains control and has John A. Dix named President (his "front man"). Durant takes for himself the title "Vice-president and General Manager".
November 2, 1863
Theodore Judah died of Yellow Fever contracted in Panama while returning to California.
December 2, 1863
The Union Pacific held ground breaking ceremonies in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and across the Missouri River in Omaha, Nebraska.
December 1863
Peter Dey is named Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific.

Thomas Durant establishes Credit Mobilier of America, a holding company designed to siphon off profits from construction of public works.
Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific and Collis Huntington of the Central Pacific worked to get the Pacific Railway Act passed, granting the railroads 12,800 acres of land per mile along with all iron and coal deposits under them, and permitted them to sell first-mortgage bonds to the public. The Union Pacific was to get $16,000.00 per mile across the flat prairies, while the Central Pacific was to get $48,000.00 per mile in the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains.
December 8, 1864
Peter Dey resigned as Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific; Colonel Silas Seymour (who knew little of railroad construction) was assigned by Durant to the position.

Labor shortages in California prompted General Superintendant Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific to employ Chinese out of San Francisco. Construction Superintendant James Harvey Strobridge objects, but by year end they've hired every available Chinese in California, and Stanford is trying to import 15,000 more from China.
The "Big Four" of the Central Pacific (Stanford, Huntington, Crocker and Hopkins) user their Credit and Finance Corporation in the same manner as Durant used the Credit Mobilier, but kept it, and the profits it generated, to themselves.
July 10, 1865
The Union Pacific laid their first rail at Omaha. At this time, the Central Pacific is 50 miles east of Sacramento.

Spring 1866
John S. "Jack" Casement and brother Dan were hired by the Union Pacific to handle the construction teams.
May 1866
Colonel Grenville Dodge replaces Seymour as Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific
Early Summer, 1866
Congress allows the Central Pacific to build east of California, setting up a race between the CP and the UP to gain advantage over one another.
August 1, 1866
Union Pacific work trains have reached 150 miles west of Omaha.
October 5, 1866
The Union Pacific reaches the 100th meridian, 247 miles west of Omaha.
November, 1866
The Central Pacific reached Cisco, 92 miles from Sacramento and 5,911 feet above sea level. Plans and arrangements are made to use the winter for digging 12 tunnels, each from 800 to 1,650 feet long. They work 3 shifts of 8 hours each per day, and employ 8,000 workers.
Late November, 1866
The Union Pacific reached North Platte, 290 miles west of Omaha.
Year End, 1866
The Union Pacific reached mile post 305, laying track whenever the weather would permit.

Oliver Ames, wealthy Massachusetts shovelmaker and brother of Congressman Oakes Ames, is named President of the Union Pacific. Oakes Ames sponsored a new director, Sidney Dillon, who with the Ames brothers starts buying shares of Credit Mobilier in an effort to challenge Durant's financial dictatorship.
November, 1867
Summit Tunnel, the highest point of the Central Pacific at 7,017 feet above sea level, is ready for track layers.
December 13, 1867
The first rails are laid eastward across the Nevada line, having by-passed a 17 mile stretch of track to close in the Donner Lake area.
Year End, 1867
The Union Pacific has laid 240 miles of track this year and is at mile post 540, while the Central Pacific has laid only 40 miles, having had to bore through thousands of feet of solid stone, fighting snowdrifts and dodging avalanches during several months of the year. Three locomotives and forty cars have been dismantled and hauled across the summit on sledges in order to continue work east of the mountains. The Union Pacific has sent 3,000 men into the Medicine Bow area to cut ties, timbers for trestles and billets for fuel for the Iron Horses.

Brigham Young of Salt Lake City has a $2,000,000 contract with the Union Pacific to build a grade across Utah. Huntington of the Central Pacific negotiates with him to build a road grade for the CP across Utah through the Weber Canyon.
Early Spring, 1868
The Central Pacific reaches Reno, Nevada
Spring, 1868
The Union Pacific begins track construction west of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
April 16, 1868
The Union Pacific rails top Sherman Summit, 8,242 feet above sea level. Durant celebrates the occasion by laying the final rail and sending a bragging telegram to President Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific. By now Durant is feuding bitterly with associates Sidney Dillon and Oakes Ames, and is looking for an opportunity to remove Granville Dodge as Chief Engineer.
Early May, 1868
The Union Pacific reaches Laramie, Wyoming. Durant has sold lots at exorbitant prices based on rumors, spread by Silas Seymour, that division shops and roundhouse planned (by Dodge) for Cheyenne would be transferred to Laramie. A round-about route out of Laramie, requiring twenty extra miles of track but avoiding grading and filling through some rough country, adds nearly two million easy dollars to the builders' pockets. This leads to a showdown between Dodge and Durant, but because Dodge was in Washington when the decision was made he is too late to rescind the order.
Mid-June, 1868
The Central Pacific has bridged the gap near Donner Lake and is now eligible to collect a fortune in track mileage bonds from the government.
July 22, 1868
The Central Pacific reaches Wadsworth, Nevada.
Late July, 1868
General Ulysses Grant, candidate of the Republican party for President, arrives in Laramie City as a guest of the Union Pacific. Horatio Seymour, brother of Colonel Silas Seymour, was the Democratic party's candidate for the same office, creating a bit of political tension as Durant meets with Grant to ask his assistance in getting Dodge removed as Chief Engineer of the UP.
July 26, 1868
General Grant, along with Generals Sherman and Sheridan who are traveling with him, meets with Dodge, Durant, and Dillon of Credit Mobilier. After hearing Durant's charges against Dodge, and Dodge's reply, Grant says, "The government expects the railroad company to meet its oblications. And the government expects General Dodge to remain with the road as its chief engineer until it is completed.
August, 1868
Chief Engineer Dodge of the Union Pacific seeks out his counterpart, Chief Engineer Samuel Montague of the Central Pacific, suggesting that the two roads decide on a definite meeting place somewhere west of Ogden. Montague declines, and the costly race continues.
September, 1868
The Central Pacific reaches Mill City, Nevada. CP track layers are now averaging a mile a day in their efforts to beat the UP into Utah.
November, 1868
The Union Pacific reaches Bear River, the heart of the old fur-trade country of Jim Bridger and the Mountain Men.
Year End, 1868
The Central Pacific tracks are approaching Carlin, Nevada, 446 miles east of Sacramento; the Union Pacific rails have been laid to Evanston, Wyoming, near the Utah border and 995 miles west of Omaha. Between these track ends were less than 400 miles, a considerable part of which had been graded in parallel lines by the rival Mormon contractors and Strobridge's Chinese workers. During Christmas week, the Credit Mobilier paid out its fifth dividend of 1868 to its tight little ring of stockholders (several of them congressmen), leaving the Union Pacific Railroad Company six million dollars in debt, and the workmen several weeks in arrears in their pay.
Winter, 1868-69
The Union Pacific, determined to gain as many track miles (and the resultant mile subsidies and land grants) as possible, continues work through the Wasatch Range.

March 8, 1869
The Union Pacific track reaches Ogden, Utah, after disregarding an order by the secretary of the Interior that they stop construction at Echo Summit, forty miles east of there. At Grant's first cabinet meeting after his inauguration, the order is rescinded.
April 9, 1869
After an all-night meeting prompted by President Grant (directing the two railroads to set a meeting point), General Grenville Dodge of the Union Pacific and Collis P. Huntington of the Central Pacific agreed to join their tracks at Promontory Point, Utah, north of the Great Salt Lake.
Spring, 1869
Jim Fisk files lawsuit as stockholder of the Union Pacific, charging that the Credit Mobilier is looting the railroad. His intention is to throw the railroad into bancruptcy in order to gain control of it. To that end, he forms an alliance with New York political boss William Marcy "Boss" Tweed
April 28, 1969
After much preparation, and with more accompanying hoopla, the Central Pacific laid 56 feet above Ten miles of track in one 12-hour day. A picked crew of eight rail carriers laid the entire distance. Sullivan, Dailey, Kennedy, Joyce, Shay, Eliott, Killeen, and McNamara were the iron men, and heroes of the day. Charles Crocker thereby won a $10,000 bet from Thomas Durant.
April 30, 1969
The Central Pacific reaches Promontory Point (also called Promontory Summit and Promontory Station).
May 6, 1869
The special train carrying Union Pacific dignitaries (including Durant and Dillon) bound for the ceremony at Promontory Point arrives at Piedmont, Wyoming from the east, and is detained by an armed mob of several hundred railroad workmen demanding overdue wages.
May 7, 1869
The Union Pacific track reaches Promontory Point.
May 10, 1869
"Last Spike" ceremony celebrating the joining of the rails of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific is held at Promontory Point. The Union Pacific train, led by the UP's No. 119 locomotive and carrying Durant, Dillon, Dodge, Seymour, Reed, the Casement brothers, and several other officials and guests, arrived shortly after 10 o'clock. The Central Pacific train, led by the CP's "Jupiter" locomotive, arrived at 11:15, carrying Leland Stanford and other CP officials and guests. At 12:47 (2:47 eastern time), a telegrapher sent the message, "done", after both Stanford and Durant in their turn missed driving home the Golden Spike into the laurel tie with the sledgehammer. Celebrations erupted there, and around the country, as the East was finally linked to the West.

The Pacific Railway Act of July 1, 1862
Central Pacific History
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
Union Pacific History
Churcher, Colin: Railway Pages include a Timeline of Canadian Railway History

My timeline history of The Canadian Pacific

This timeline was adapted from the book, "Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow", subtitled Railroads in the West, © 1977, by Dee Brown. All credit should go to him; any errors or omissions are strictly my own.
Additional information from "The Great Iron Trail", © 1962, by Robert West Howard. Note that some dates may be different, depending on the source.

Constructed, Maintained, and © by Ron Kohlin of Niceville, Florida, USA
Last updated on August 6, 2002.
Send E-mail to " Ron at Kohlin dot com "