The Building of the First Transcontinental Railroad
The rail line was an important goal of President Abraham Lincoln, fostered during the early portion of his term and completed four years after his death. The building of the railroad was motivated in part to bind California to the Union during the American Civil War. The railroad is considered by some to be the greatest technological feat of the 19th century. The transcontinental railroad replaced the slower and more dangerous wagon trains, Pony Express and stagecoach lines that crossed the country by land and the equally difficult sea journey around the southern tip of South America.
The route followed the well established Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. The new line began in Omaha, Nebraska, followed the Platte River, crossed the Rocky Mountains at South Pass in Wyoming and then through northern Utah and Nevada before crossing the Sierras to Sacramento, California. Additional track was laid to connect Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah and other cities not directly on the route.
The Central Pacific laid 690 miles (1,110 km) of track, starting in Sacramento, and the Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles (1,749 km) of track, starting in Omaha. The two lines connected at Promontory Summit, Utah.
Talk of a transcontinental railroad started in 1830, shortly after railroads began large scale operation in the United States. At about the same time English-speaking settlers began settling in Mexican controlled California.
Much of the early debate was not so much over