The Transcontinental Railroad

The Transcontinental Railroad

A History of Railroad Technology


Who Was Who

Oakes Ames (1804-1873): U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. Though an early investor in the Central Pacific Railroad, Representative Ames, at the behest of President Lincoln, financed a struggling Union Pacific Railroad in 1864. Congress censured Ames in the 1870s following revelations of Ames’ bribes and other illegal schemes while president of the UP and Crédit Mobilier, particularly his efforts to peddle influence with fellow members of Congress to gain favorable passage of railroad legislation.

Oliver Ames (1807-1877): President of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1866 to 1871 and brother of Oakes Ames.

John H. Baird (1822-1880): Established the California Powder Works company near Santa Cruz, California, in 1861. The company supplied blasting powder to miners and railroad workers.

Matthias Baldwin (1795-1866): A machine shop owner from Pennsylvania who built “Old Ironsides,” the first steam locomotive in the U.S. to pull a passenger car. His company, the Baldwin Locomotive Works, manufactured over 1,500 locomotives during his lifetime.

Julius Bandmann (1825-1900): Created the Giant Powder Works company of San Francisco in 1867, which began producing dynamite in 1868. Giant Powder, owner of Alfred Nobel’s U.S. patent for dynamite, became the largest producer of dynamite in the western U.S.

E. G. Barney (1815-?): Superintendent of the Alabama & Tennessee Rivers Railroad.

Joseph Fulton Boyd (1832-1907): Superintendent of the Cumberland Valley Railroad from 1873 until his death in 1907. A quartermaster in the Army of the Ohio during the Civil War, General Boyd served as superintendent of the Mobile & Ohio railroad from 1867 to 1871 and of the St. Louis & Southeastern Railroad in 1872.

BNSF Railway Company: Railroad company formed in 1995 with the merger of Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Pacific railways. BNSF rail lines cover the western two-thirds of the U.S., and portions of Canada and Mexico. Support from the BNSF Foundation made a prior version of this exhibit possible.

Arthur Brown Sr. (1830-1917): Superintendent of Bridges and Buildings for the Central Pacific Railroad, a position he held for 35 years. An architect and civil engineer, Brown designed the snow sheds and bridges of the Central Pacific line.

California Powder Works: Founded by John H. Baird in 1861 near Santa Cruz, California, California Powder Works produced explosives for mining and civil engineering projects.

Jack Casement (1829-1909): A Union Brigadier General during the Civil War, Casement worked on the Ohio Railroad prior to the conflict. Grenville Dodge hired Casement and his brother Daniel to lead the construction of the Union Pacific line. “General Jack” became construction leader, while Daniel handled financial matters.

Central Pacific Railroad: Railroad company incorporated in 1861 to complete the transcontinental railroad from Sacramento to Utah. In 1959, the Central Pacific became a subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1996, Union Pacific Railroad purchased Southern Pacific, creating the country’s largest railway network.

Civil War, United States (1861-1865): War fought between 25 northern states and 11 southern, slave-holding states that seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. After four years of bitter fighting, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, ending the war and reuniting the country. Following the conflict, the federal government imposed political and economic reforms on the southern states to rebuild and reintegrate the region into the Union. Known as the Reconstruction Era, the policies were in place until 1877 when Rutherford B. Hayes became the 19th U.S. president.

Lewis M. Clement (1837-1914): Chief Assistant Engineer for the Central Pacific Railroad. Hired by Theodore Judah in 1862, Clement became Samuel Montague’s chief assistant following Judah’s death in 1863. Following the completion of the transcontinental line, Clement worked for the Southern Pacific Railway, building rail lines throughout the western U.S.

Peter Cooper (1791-1883): New York inventor who in 1830 built the first steam locomotive in the U.S., known as the “Tom Thumb.” Cooper’s locomotives operated on the 13-mile track of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the first commercial railroad line in the U.S.

Charles Crocker (1822-1888): One of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. A successful Sacramento businessman, Crocker moved to California from his native Indiana in 1849. A novice in the construction business, he nevertheless oversaw the construction of the Central Pacific line, hiring Chinese workers to make up the majority of the railroad’s workforce.

Edwin Bryant Crocker (1818-1875): Legal counsel to the Central Pacific Railroad and older brother of Charles Crocker. Governor Leland Stanford appointed Crocker a state supreme court justice in 1863. A year later, his brother, Charles, convinced Judge Crocker to leave the bench to work for the Central Pacific. He resigned his position as legal counsel after suffering a stroke in 1869. Judge Crocker spent the remaining years of his life traveling and collecting artwork.

Peter A. Dey (1825-1911): Railroad engineer who surveyed the Union Pacific route from 1863 to 1865. He became chief engineer of the Union Pacific, resigning in 1865 because of disagreements with Thomas Durant over the handling of business dealings.

John Dix (1798-1879): Governor, U.S. Senator from New York, and Union Civil War general who became U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in 1861. He was president of the Union Pacific from 1863 to 1868, serving in a figurehead position while Thomas Durant maintained day-to-day control of the railroad.

Charles Ferdinand Dowd (1825-1904): Principal of the Temple Grove Ladies Seminary in New York who invented the concept of standard time. In 1870, Dowd published a pamphlet that proposed dividing the country into four time zones with the eastern most zone set as standard time, with each zone, moving west, one hour earlier than standard time. Railroad superintendents adopted a variation of Dowd’s proposal on November 18, 1883.

Grenville Dodge (1831-1916): Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad from 1866 to 1869. A Union Civil War veteran who rose to the rank of Brigadier General, Dodge served in the Army’s war against the Plains Indians following the Civil War. Dodge became involved in the Crédit Mobilier scandal, and was eventually pursued by a congressional investigation.

Donner Party (Winter of 1846-1847): Group of two families, the Donners and Reeds, from Springfield, Illinois, who left Independence, Missouri, on May 12, 1846, headed to California by covered wagon. Late in October, the Donner Party arrived at the Sierra Nevada range attempting to cross the mountains through an ill-advised shortcut. Caught too high in the mountains, too late in the year, 87 members of the Donner party spent nearly five months trapped by deep snow during one of the worst winters in California history. Living in makeshift shelters and surviving on a scarce food supply, the pioneers turned to cannibalism to survive. Only 46 members of the Donner Party had survived when rescue parties reached their camps the following February.

Thomas Durant (1820-1885): Vice-president of Union Pacific and operational leader of the railroad. A medical doctor and Wall Street investor, “Doc” Durant hired Grenville Dodge as chief engineer and created the Crédit Mobilier to finance railroad construction. Durant’s secret involvement with Crédit Mobilier, revealed after the railroad’s completion, led to a lengthy congressional investigation. Durant received no punishment for his involvement in the scandal.

Sanford Fleming (1827-1915): Scottish born Canadian railway engineer who proposed a universal time standard in 1879. Queen Victoria knighted Fleming in 1897.

Giant Powder Works: The first company in the U.S. to produce dynamite. Founded in 1867 by Julius Bandmann.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885): Eighteenth President of the United States and former Union Civil War General. President Grant took his oath of office on March 4, 1869, two months before the completion of the transcontinental railroad. He served two terms in office.

Robert Harris (1830-1894): Superintendant of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad from 1863 to 1878. A civil engineer and career railroad worker, Harris became director of the Northern Pacific Railway, a transcontinental railway completed in 1883 that linked Chicago and Seattle. In 1968, the CB&Q, the Northern Pacific, and the Great Northern railways merged into one corporate entity under the name Burlington Northern.

Mark Hopkins, Jr. (1813-1878): One of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. A native of New York, Hopkins moved to California in 1849. He partnered with Collis Huntington in the hardware business in Sacramento. He became treasurer of Central Pacific at its founding and remained in that position until his death.

James Howden (1836?-1874): British chemist hired by the Central Pacific Railroad to manufacture nitroglycerin on-site in the Sierra Nevadas. He later worked for California Powder Works in Santa Cruz, California, developing improvements with dynamite.

William Howe (1803-1852): Engineer from Spencer, Massachusetts, who patented a truss design in 1840 that became a common feature on the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad bridges.

Howe truss: A truss made of steel or timber or both for spans up to 80 feet having both vertical and diagonal members.

Herbert Hoxie (1830-1886): Iowa politician who won the construction contract for building the Union Pacific line. Hoxie turned over construction rights to his friend Thomas Durant’s Crédit Mobilier company, a move that enabled Durant and his cronies to illegally garner huge profits from government contracts.

Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900): One of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. A native of Connecticut, Huntington was a successful Sacramento businessman who partnered with Mark Hopkins, Jr. in 1855. Huntington served as vice president of the Central Pacific, spending most of his time in the New York and Washington, D.C., lobbying potential investors and members of Congress.

John D. Imboden (1823-1895): Brigadier General in the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. Following the war, Imboden returned to his native Virginia to practice law in Richmond, and promote real estate and rail development to rebuild the state devastated by war. He later moved to southwestern Virginia to establish mining in the region and to dabble in inventions. He established the town of Damascus, Virginia.

Eli H. Janney (1831-1912): Dry goods clerk and former Confederate Civil War veteran from Alexandria, Virginia. Janney received U.S. Patent No. 138,405 in 1873 for his improved coupling device.

John Bloomfield Jervis (1795-1885): Chief engineer of the Mohawk & Hudson Railway in New York. He designed "The Experiment," the first locomotive in the world to have a free-swinging, four-wheel front truck. Jervis later served as chief engineer for numerous canal, railroad, and water supply systems.

Theodore Judah (1826-1863): Railroad engineer from Ohio who became a vocal advocate for a transcontinental railroad. He performed early survey work through the Sierra Nevadas and convinced Sacramento businessmen Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, and Mark Hopkins, Jr., to invest in the Central Pacific Railroad. After losing control of the Central Pacific to the “Big Four,” Judah traveled east in 1863 to recruit new investors. He died in New York after contracting yellow fever crossing the isthmus of Panama.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865): Elected the sixteenth President of the United States in 1860. He signed the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 that chartered the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies. His assassination occurred four years prior to the completion of the railroad.

Master Car Builders Association: Organization of railway engineers and executives established on September 18, 1867, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, to standardize railroad procedures, policies, and equipment.

Ezra Miller (1812-1885): Engineer from Wisconsin with the Chicago & North Western Railway Company. He designed a railroad passenger car platform, coupler, and buffer design that replaced the loose link design on passenger trains.

Ezra L. Miller (1784-1847): Businessman from Charleston, South Carolina, who invested in the South Carolina Railroad in 1929. Miller’s steam locomotive, the "Best Friend," was the first locomotive built and operated to pull cars on a railroad in the U.S.

Samuel Montague (1830-1883): Chief Engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad from 1863 until his death. Montague began work for the Central Pacific in 1862 and became Chief Engineer following the death of Theodore Judah.

Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729): British engineer who in 1712 invented the first practical steam engine. Newcomen’s engines were used primarily in coal mines throughout England and Europe, pumping water from mine shafts.

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896): Swedish chemist who patented a manufacturing process in 1863 to make nitroglycerin a commercially viable explosive. Nobel’s fortune from manufacturing dynamite and other explosives established the Nobel Prizes.

Promontory, Utah: Location in Utah north of the Great Salt Lake where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met to complete the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.

George M. Pullman (1831-1897): Chicago, Illinois, engineer who developed a luxury railroad car during the early 1860s. Pullman cars featured comfortable seating, restaurants, and sleeping compartments, vastly improving the comfort of rail travel. In April 1865, President Lincoln’s body traveled from Washington to Illinois in a specially designed Pullman car.

William H. Seward (1801-1872): U.S. Secretary of State from 1861 to 1869. He signed the Burlingame Treaty with China that encouraged Chinese immigration to the U.S.

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891): Union General during the U.S. Civil War, famous for his army’s march from Atlanta, Georgia, to the Atlantic coast that split the Confederacy in half. Following the Civil War, Sherman commanded the U.S. Army in the West, encouraging the country’s fight against the Native American population.

Ascanio Sobrero (1812 – 1888): Italian chemist who invented nitroglycerin in 1847. Unable to control the explosive nature of the chemical, he warned that the substance was dangerously unstable and should not be exploited for commercial use.

Leland Stanford (1824-1893): One of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. A native of New York, Stanford moved to California in 1852 and operated a successful mining supply business. He served as governor of California from 1861-62 and as a U.S. senator from 1885 until his death in 1893. Stanford and his wife, Jane, founded Stanford University in memory of their son, Leland, Jr., who died in 1884 at the age of 15.

George Stephenson (1781-1848): British railroad engineer who began building steam locomotives in 1825. In 1829, Stephenson’s locomotive, the Rocket, won the famous Rainhill Trials, a competition between locomotive companies sponsored by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

John Stevens (1749-1838): Engineer from New Jersey who built the first American steam locomotive in 1825. In 1812, he published Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Railways and Steam Carriages over Canal Navigation to promote railway development.

James Harvey Strobridge (1827- 1921): Superintendant of Construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, serving under Charles Crocker. He moved to California in 1849 from Vermont and worked in a hydraulic mine where he first met Crocker. He became famous for his ill treatment of Chinese workers and for a record ten miles of track laid in one day.

Daniel Strong (1822-1889): Druggist living in Dutch Flat, California. In 1860, Strong led Judah on a field trip through the Donner Pass, the location eventually selected as the route through the Sierra Nevadas.

Charles S. Tisdale: Inventor of a rail car with wheels that slid along their axles that allowed trains to operated on railways that used differing gauge. Tisdale’s cars allowed trains to operate between the differing gauges of the Eastern Railroad that ran from Massachusetts to Maine and the Grand Trunk Railroad that operated throughout the northeast U.S. and southeast Canada.

Richard Trevithick (1771-1833): A British mining engineer who built the first practical steam-driven locomotive. Following the expiration of James Watts’ steam engine patents in 1800, Trevithick utilized high pressure steam to power his locomotive.

Union Pacific Railroad: Railroad company formed in 1862 to complete the section of the transcontinental railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, to Utah. Today, the Union Pacific operates the largest railway network in the U.S. with rail lines throughout the western half of the country.

James Watt (1736-1819): Scottish engineer who built the first practical steam engine. Although earlier steam engines were developed by Thomas Savory and Thomas Newcomen, the efficient and versatile Watt engine was the first be widely used in industry.

George Westinghouse (1846-1914): Electrical engineer who invented locomotive air brakes in 1869 and later founded the Westinghouse Electric Company. In 1888, he purchased the rights to Nikola Tesla's patents for a system of producing alternating current electricity and began building AC power generating stations during the 1890s.

Brigham Young (1801-1877): President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A native of Vermont, Young established the Salt Lake Valley region of Utah as Mormon headquarters in 1847. He contracted with both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads in 1867 to build roadbeds through Utah.