Golden Spike

The completion of the world's first transcontinental railroad was celebrated here on Promontory Summit, Utah, where the Central Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad met on May 10, 1869. A Golden Spike was designated as a National Historic Site in nonfederal ownership on April 2, 1957, and authorized for federal ownership and administration by an act of Congress on July 30, 1965.Union Pacific's No. 119 and Central Pacific's "Jupiter" engines lined up facing each other on the tracks, separated only by the width of one rail. Leland Stanford, one of the "Big Four" of the Central Pacific, brought four ceremonial spikes.The famed "Golden Spike" was presented by David Hewes, a San Francisco construction magnate. It was engraved with the names of the Central Pacific directors, special sentiments appropriate to the occasion, and, on the head, the notation "the Last Spike."A second golden spike was presented by the San Francisco News Letter. A silver spike was Nevada's contribution, and a spike blended of iron, silver, and gold represented Arizona. At 12:47 p.m., the word went out over the wire that it was “done”.The steam engines, "Jupiter" and "No. 119" that are on the historical site are replicas, both of the original engines were scrapped in the early 1900s, but these replicas were reconstructed from period drawings and specifications and they made their debut on May 10, 1979.Jupiter, a wood burner, was the engine used by the Central Pacific in the original ceremony, and No. 119, a coal burner, was the Union Pacific's choice. During the winter, they are cleaned, maintained and stored in the Engine House at the site.The "Railroaders Festival" is held each year on the second Saturday in August, to re-enact the ceremonial driving of the golden spike. The festival features a number of other activities including handcar races and rides, contests, an Old Time Fiddlers' Concert, buffalo chip throwing, and other interesting family adventures.

In the middle of this famous photo by A.J. Russell, Samuel S. Montague of the Central Pacific Rail Road (CPRR) shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge of the Union Pacific (UP).

The driving of the golden spike realized the achievement of a decades held dream for most Americans, the completion of a transcontinental railroad. The railroad tied the United States together east and west.

The last spike really was golden, as it was made out of 17.6-karat copper-alloyed gold and weighed 14.03 troy ounces (436 g). It was a gift of San Francisco financier David Hewes and can still be viewed at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University.

The ceremony marked the end of the incredible government sanctioned race between the CPRR and the UP. The CPRR starting from Sacramento and working east through the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Utah. Conversely, the UP started from Omaha and laid its track east across the Nebraska plains and Wyoming. Both companies laid track at a furious pace and as quickly as possible, in order to access government loans and land grants.

By dramatically reducing travel time and the ease of shipping goods between the east and west coasts the transcontinental railroad ushered in a new era in America and led to both increased settlement and economic growth in the western states.

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BYU History Professor Keynotes Golden Spike Commemoration

Posing for the reenactment photo at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The 147th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad was commemorated May 10, 2016.

“When we came over the hills and plains in 1847 we made our calculations for a railroad across the country.” —President Brigham Young

On the 147th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, the contribution of and benefits to the enterprise by the Mormons then living in the Utah Territory “is a subject that merits attention,” a Brigham Young University professor of Church history declared.

Fred E. Woods was the keynote speaker at the annual commemoration of the driving of the Golden Spike at this windswept desert summit north of Ogden and west of Brigham City, Utah.

Hosted by the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the commemorative program each year features the colorful replicas of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific steam engines that met face-to-face that day in 1869. Costumed performers reenact the driving of the commemorative golden spike by officials from the two railroads, and visitors are invited to be part of a photograph imitative of a famous image that was shot that day of the crowd in attendance, posed on and around the engines.

In his address, Brother Woods captured the historic import of the undertaking. “Today, we are at the crossroads where a monumental task was completed involving an abundance of iron rails and wooden ties,” he said. “The colossal enterprise stands as a testament to a catalytic transportation transformation. It seems appropriate it would take place in Utah Territory. Here, Utahns completed the transcontinental telegraph and later assisted in the construction of the transcontinental railroad.”

Leslie Crossland, Golden Spike National Historic Site superintendent, and Norm Nelson, Golden Spike Association president, sing “Happy Birthday” to the national parks at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

Don Bradshaw has been participating for over 30 years at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Many came to the event dressed in period clothing. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Celebrations marking the completion of the railroad were held nationwide—including 7,000 people gathered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, he said. “Promontory enjoyed bands from Fort Douglas and the Salt Lake City 10th Ward.”

From that moment, America entered an era of new prosperity, Brother Woods said. “Travelers could now cross the continent in a week instead of six months.” The workforce that completed the railroad was made up mostly of Chinese working for the Central Pacific and Irish for the Union Pacific, “but critical to both were the Mormon graders under the direction of the American Moses, Brigham Young,” he said.

In 1869 Mormons comprised 98 percent of the population in Utah Territory, he observed.

“The Mormon grading was not only superior, but their construction camps were conducted in stark contrast to the notorious ‘hell on wheels’ encampments,” he said. “Instead of boisterousness induced of whiskey, gambling, and soiled doves, the Mormon campsites operated under orderly and peaceful religious governance.”

Members of the Sons of Utah Pioneers Color Guard raise the colors at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Homespun songs were sung by Mormon workers around campfires, he said, including one with these words:

Hurrah, hurrah, the railroad’s begun. Three cheers for the contractor, his name Brigham Young. Hurrah, hurrah, we are faithful and true. And if we stick to it, it’s bound to go through.

Some 5,000 Utahns did “stick to it,” Brother Woods noted, “laboring for both the UP and the CP, whose supervisors were complimentary of the grading, trestlework, bridge-building, tunneling, and furnishing of ties completed in Utah.” Some argued that the Latter-day Saints did not want a railroad coming to Utah to disturb their cultural isolation, Brother Woods noted. “According to Samuel Bowles, Brigham Young was quick to respond to this claim: ‘It must indeed be a … poor religion if it cannot stand one railroad.’”

Senior engineer Richard Carroll directs junior engineer Tom Brown as he backs the Jupiter locomotive into position at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The locomotives, which are exact replicas of the originals, were built in 1975. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

President John Taylor echoed that sentiment when he said: “We meet in friendly conclave with distinguished gentlemen connected with the eastern and western divisions of the railroad. … We hail these gentlemen as brothers in art, science, progress and civilization. … We will bare our arms and nerve our muscles to aid in the completion of this great cord of brotherhood which is already reaching our borders.”

Brother Woods said that when they were en route to the Mountain West after leaving Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, the Mormon pioneers were already looking forward to a railroad coming to the settlements they would establish.

He quoted President Young as saying: “I do not suppose we traveled one day from the Missouri here, but what we looked for a track where the rails could be laid with success, for a railroad through this Territory to the Pacific Ocean. This was long before the gold was found, when this Territory belonged to Mexico. We never went through the canyons or worked our way over the dividing ridges without asking where the rails could be laid. When we came over the hills and plains in 1847 we made our calculations for a railroad across the country. … We want the benefits of the railroad for our emigrants so that after they land in New York they may get on board the cars and never leave them again until they reach this city.”

The railroad construction brought needed employment to the settlers in the territory, he noted, after grasshopper infestations had destroyed crops. The coming of the railroad to Utah offered hope to transport goods to a national market and facilitated transportation of granite stones from the quarry in Salt Lake Valley’s Little Cottonwood Canyon for construction of the Salt Lake Temple, Brother Woods said.

Zoe Jenkins, 2, holds a replica golden spike at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Many came to the event dressed in period clothing. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

“In addition, with increased visitors to Utah, the Mormons hoped that prejudices would soften towards the City of the Saints,” he added.

Brother Woods concluded “with a hope that we remember the immense price paid by a large body of men to complete an enormous undertaking. I pay tribute to the collective calloused hands, aching arms, strained backs, and blistered feet of the men who leveled the path and laid the rails under unrelenting circumstances. Regardless of size or strength, these diverse human beings linked rails that tied the nation together and prospered the whole.”

Engine no. 119 gets into position before the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The locomotives, which are exact replicas of the originals, were built in 1975. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Bear River High School sophomore Emilee Dansie plays the timpani at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The band played selections from motion picture soundtracks during a break in the ceremony. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Wade Walton, Bear River High School band teacher, conducts his band at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The band played selections from motion picture soundtracks during a break in the ceremony. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Bear River High School junior Erin Thompson plays the piccolo at the Golden Spike commemorative ceremony at Promontory Summit, located 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The band played selections from motion picture soundtracks during a break in the ceremony. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Story of the Golden Spike at Lang Station.

Even more significant than being a physical train station until it was demolished in 1971, "Lang Station" is a local colloquialism for the "wedding of the rails" that joined Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was a watershed event in California history, putting Los Angeles on the (railroad) map of the United States. Train tracks laid north out of Los Angeles and south out of San Francisco met on John Lang's homestead in Soledad Canyon and culminated in a "golden spike" ceremony on September 5, 1876, similar to the more famous golden spike ceremony in Utah that marked the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Now, in 1876, Los Angeles had a direct link to the Transcontinental Railroad and was transformed from an isolated, politically impotent and sparsely populated outpost into a budding metropolis that would eclipse San Francisco in population and industry.

Generally overlooked until the centennial ceremony in 1976 were the Chinese immigrant men who provided most of the labor. Out of a workforce of approximately 4,000 men, at least 3,000 were Chinese immigrants. Prejudice against Chinese immigrants in California at the time would lead to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act six years later. Unlike in 1869 at Promontory Summit where Chinese workers laid the last rail for the Central Pacific Railroad and Irish immigrant men laid the last rail for the Union Pacific, the Chinese workers were excluded from the "photo opportunity" at Lang. (Ironically, nobody thought to bring a camera.) When the last 1,000 feet of track remained to be laid, the Chinese workers were ordered to stand aside so Caucasian men could complete the task in view of the political dignitaries and railroad executives who gathered at the Lang site where Charles Crocker hammered in the "last spike" (fabricated of solid gold) with a silver hammer.

Looking at a map, one might ask: How was Lang the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Francisco? Answer: Terrain. Laying track southerly from San Francisco through farm country went relatively quickly. But track layers coming north from Los Angeles encountered an obstacle: the mountain range separating the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. They couldn't go over it. They had to go through it. For more than a year, some 1,000 Chinese workers dug what was then the world's third-longest tunnel. Many workers died on the project. (It was the same story at Promontory Summit, Utah, which isn't the geographical midpoint between San Francisco and Iowa. Chinese workers from the west had to bore through the Sierra Nevadas.)

Today, the Vista Canyon Ranch development at Lost Canyon Road in Canyon Country is destined to commemorate the "wedding of the rails." Its Metrolink Station &mdash Metrolink being the successor operator of the rail line that came together at Lang &mdash will be the nearest public/government facility, geographically, to the actual site of the rail linkage. Three plaques at Lang, which are no longer visible or accessible to the public, are to be moved to the Metrolink station, including the official State Historic Landmark plaque (1957) and the two plaques placed at the centennial event in 1876: one, placed by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, memorializing the Chinese rail workers the other, placed by E Clampus Vitus, marking the site of the golden spike ceremony.

Condensed from a forthcoming book by Gerald M. Best, noted railroad historian.

Railroad fever gripped the nation through the first half of the nineteenth century. A new world had been born. For the first time in the long history of mankind, he and his goods could be transported across land a speed faster than a galloping horse. People could now move over great distances in comfort goods could be moved in quantity over those same distances.

Communities competed wildly for rail service the men who laid the rails held the reins of political and economic power. For a while it appeared that the railroad, moving south from San Francisco toward the Colorado river, would bypass the farming town of Los Angeles, "Queen of the Cow Counties."

This tiny engine, christened the San Gabriel, was shipped by water from San Francisco to General Phineas Banning, who had long operated mule and wagon trains from the harbor at Wilmington to Fort Tejon, on the crest of the Tehachapi mountains. Banning and a partner started to build a railroad from the harbor to the city, under the banner of the Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad. They had laid three miles of track, hauled in from the pier with drayhorses, before the San Gabriel and three flat cars arrived. (The San Gabriel was reported to have fallen off the Alameda wharf the year before, and had been raised and repaired. It was given to constant breakdowns.) The tracks reached halfway from the harbor to Los Angeles when word came that the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had joined their transcontinental tracks at Promontory Point, Utah. Four months later, September 9, 1869, the tracks were complete. The eight-wheeled Schenectady engines which had been ordered had not arrived, so the little four-wheel San Gabriel did all the railroad's passenger and freight hauling &mdash with frequent time out for breakdowns &mdash until the locomotive Los Angeles was landed, six weeks later, after a seven months' voyage around the Horn.

A Bargain with the Railroad

The people of Los Angeles figured that their 21-mile railroad must some day, somehow, be linked to the rest of the world. Politicians and financiers engaged in loud public argument and quiet backroom deals.

The answer was worked out one day in July, 1872 in the office of former Governor Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific. With him was Charles Crocker, who had supervised the building of the railroad from California eastward, and who was president of a newly acquired subsidiary, the Southern Pacific Railroad. Another former governor, John G. Downey, a leading citizen of Los Angeles, sat down with the two and they worked out a deal for the Southern Pacific to build a line out of Los Angeles, to join with the Southern Pacific line then being built southward through the San Joaquin valley, connecting with the Central Pacific main line near Stockton. In return, the railroad would get full ownership of the Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad, with rolling stock, wharf, stations, yards and rights of way to build lines to Pomona and Anaheim.

The public, of course, had to buy these properties and present them to the Southern Pacific. On November 5, 1872, the voters enthusiastically voted themselves in debt for the sake of the railroad.

The Southern Pacific bustled about in the Los Angeles area through 1873 and most of 1874, building lines to Anaheim, Pomona and San Fernando, and importing a total of eight locomotives, but there was little progress on the rails to the north.

Suddenly a rival railroad appeared on the scene, and Southern Pacific started massive construction. The route crossed two great barriers: the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and the Mojave desert and the short but jagged and forbidding San Gabriel Range between San Fernando and Newhall.

It was estimated that it would take two years to bore the tunnel north of San Fernando through nearly 8,000 feet of solid rock, but that surveys were being made and a large force of Chinese stone masons would soon be at work at both ends of the proposed tunnel. During those two years, contractor Charles Strobridge, who had built the Central Pacific, would reach the summit of the Tehachapi Mountains, and should be able to meet the tracklayers working north from the completed San Fernando tunnel some time in 1876.

A large force of Chinese workmen began arriving in groups of 200 in March 1875. At the foot of the mountain through which Phineas Banning and the General Edward F. Beale had made their spectacular cuts, the crews began to dig. Work was commenced at both ends for this 7,000-foot bore through solid rock, and to speed the process, the exact spot at the summit of the mountain which would be directly over the center of the tunnel was located by surveyors, and a shaft was sunk through the rock until the level of the tunnel was reached. To hoist the waste rock out of this bore, the Southern Pacific's Sacramento shops built a large cable drum and hoisting engine which was sent in sections by ship and assembled on top of the mountain. The engine and boiler had been removed from one of the abandoned Market Street Ry. Steam cars, and as one spectator described, "It was the funniest looking contrivance you ever did see!" As soon as the shaft was completed, crews were then able to work in both directions towards the stone cutters chipping away at the north and south ends. This shortened the time required to complete the bore by a number of months.

On January 1, 1876 the contractor for the San Fernando Tunnel announced that 2,900 feet of the tunnel had been completed, leaving 4,100 feet to go. At that rate the tunnel was sure to be completed by summer. The track had been extended from San Fernando to the mouth of the tunnel, where the stage coaches for Mojave and the north could conveniently meet the trains. Charles Crocker announced that 1,500 men and 500 animals were at work in Tehachapi Pass, the line from Caliente to Tehachapi Summit requiring the boring of 14 tunnels and the building of a giant loop to keep the grade at the required 2.2 percent.

The San Fernando Tunnel, 7,000 feet long, was the principal subject of conversation in Los Angeles as it neared completion, and one Sunday an excursion with six cars jammed with passengers made the trip to the south portal and return. Tracklaying north of the tunnel began at the end of July and soon Newhall was reached. Train service to San Francisco now began at Keene, high up in the Tehachapis near the great loop, and the track had passed Tehachapi Summit and the graders were already out on the Mojave Desert. On July 27, 1876, Crocker announced that Tunnel No. 19 in Soledad Canyon had been holed through at 223 feet and that this was the last tunnel that was needed to complete the line. The Southern Pacific announced that the rails would be joined on September 5, 1876 at a point called Lang, 43 miles from Los Angeles and 440 miles from San Francisco.

Great plans for the event were in the works in Los Angeles, and invitations were issued to 40 of the town's most prominent citizens to accompany Supt. E.E. Hewitt to the ceremony of driving the last spike. For the officials and their invited guests from San Francisco, the Southern Pacific provided a special train to bring a party of 56, who came in style aboard three Silver Palace Sleeping Cars and the new Director's car California. The train left Oakland Mole on the afternoon of September 4th with 56 passengers aboard. Representing the "Big Four" was Leland Stanford Crocker was down at Lang and C.P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins were absent. Included in the party were San Francisco's mayor A.J. Bryant, Gen. McDowell, commander of the Presidio, the editors of all the San Francisco newspapers and their star reporters. Even M.H. deYoung, owner of the Chronicle and not noted for his support of the S.P. was present. So were a number of prominent businessmen and politicians. The special reached Fresno late in the evening, and Central Pacific's fast passenger engine No. 95, an eight-wheeler built by McKay & Aldus hauled the train over the relatively level stretch to the division point at Sumner (Bakersfield). Here a brand new, heavy ten-wheel engine No. 38, one of ten built by Schenectady that spring for the Southern Pacific, was attached to the special, then started out for the meeting point at Lang. A helper engine was attached at Caliente, at the foot of the long climb to Tehachapi Summit, from where No. 38 made it alone to Lang.

In the meantime, Governor Downey called the general committee for the railroad celebration together and last-minute arrangements were made for the reception and banquet which would be held at Union Club Hall on the evening of the 5th. The Los Angeles Star of September 3 said that the train with invited guests would leave Los Angeles station at 9 a.m. on the 5th and that "Supt. Hewitt of the railroad is happy and yet he is unhappy happy at the event and unhappy because he can't invite the whole community to witness the demonstration. There will be only 40 invitations!"

The train consisted of eight-wheel engine No. 25, the last of a group of five built by Schenectady in 1875 and shipped to Los Angeles by sailing vessel, and five coaches which seated about 60 persons each, enabling him to pick up a few extra passengers on the way to Lang. He had forgotten about the brass band which was a necessity for an occasion such as this, and by the time the train left Los Angeles Hewitt had 191 passengers. After stopping at the stations en route, more people boarded the train and by the time they reached the end of track near Lang, there were standees in the aisles, on the platforms and hanging on the steps. Many others made their way by horse-drawn carriages, on horseback or on foot, and were at Lang ahead of the special trains.

Quoting a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle: "Shortly after 1 o'clock, the San Francisco excursion train, having been delayed a trifle by the giving out of the air brakes, pushed its way through the narrow pass to the place of junction, near Lang Station. Our magnificent ten-wheeled engine was gaily decorated with flags and as soon as it came in sight was hailed by loud shouts by the Los Angeles group who, to the number of more than a thousand, had arrived at an earlier hour."

The Los Angeles Star's reporter said: "On arriving at the point of junction at Lang Station the entire working force of the road &mdash some 4,000 strong &mdash was seen drawn up in battle array. Swarms of Chinese and scores of teams and drivers formed a working display such as is seldom seen. The secret of rapid railroad building was apparent at a glance. The spot selected for the ceremony was on a broad and beautiful plain surrounded by undulating hills on the one side and the rugged peaks and deep gorges of the San Fernando mountains on the other. The scene was one worthy of the painter's pencil, but by some strange oversight, no photographer was present and the picture presented will live only in the memories of those whose good fortune it was to be present."

The Chronicle reporter resumed: "There were nearly 4,000 people on the ground, nearly 3,000 being Chinese employees of the railroad who with their picks, shovels and bamboo hats arranged on either side of the track looked on with wondering eyes and jabbering away like so many parrots."

Your historian would like to note at this point that this group of 4,000 formed the railroad workers only another 1,000 or more were the spectators who gathered at various vantage points to view the scene. The crossties had already been laid, and everything finished except the laying and spiking down of the rails.

"The laying of the remaining 1,050 feet of track and the connecting of the through line was done as soon as the railroad officials and invited guests could alight from the San Francisco train and take their places. Charles Crocker superintended the work in person," continued the Chronicle reporter.

The crossties were neatly lined up at proper spacing for 1,050 feet, two spikes were laid at each end of each crosstie, and the surveyor's guideline was in place. To impress the spectators, the Chinese graders and stone masons were lined up in rows on each side of the roadbed. What a showman Crocker was &mdash what a pity we have no photographs of this inspiring sight! Each tracklaying gang had a long, four-wheeled push-car loaded with between 35 and 40 rails, with eight track layers, a foreman and several relief men as was the custom of those days.

The Chronicle resumes: "After Crocker gave the signal and the locomotives whistled, in an instant all was excitement. The air was full of dust, steel rails and iron mauls hammering in the spikes. All the tracklayers were Caucasians and the Chinese simply looked on and cheered their favorite crew. For a time, neither party gained any advantage, when the railcar of the San Francisco gang ran off the track, and with a wild yell the Los Angeles gang reached the junction just one rail in advance of their opponents. This triumph was hailed with cheer after cheer, the San Francisco gang joining in good humoredly in the hurrah. The San Francisco side was then spiked down and thoroughly complete, and the accomplishment of this feat was hailed with as loud shouting as with the reaching of the junction. The time occupied was between 5½ and 6 minutes. As the rails met, the band from Los Angeles struck up a lively air and amid the frantic shouts of the crowd and a cloud of dust which obscured everything and everybody, Charles Crocker stepped to the front."

The Los Angeles Star's reporter continues the story: "After the cheering had subsided and the crowd had been induced to stand back a short distance, Gov. Downey introduced L.W. Thatcher to Col. Crocker as the public spirited jeweler who had manufactured the gold spike and silver hammer to be used in the ceremonies. Col. Crocker thanked him for his appropriate gift, and said the company would treasure them in its archives as souvenirs of the great event.

"The spike is of solid San Gabriel gold, the same in size as ordinary railroad spikes the hammer is of solid silver with a handle of orange wood. Taking the hammer in one hand and the spike in the other, Col. Crocker said, 'Gentlemen of Los Angeles and San Francisco, it has been deemed best on this occasion that the last spike to be driven should be of gold, that most precious of metals, as indicative of the great wealth which will flow into the coffers of San Francisco and Los Angeles when this connection is made, and is no mean token of the importance of this grand artery of commerce which we are about to unite with this last spike. This wedding of Los Angeles with San Francisco is not a ceremony consecrated by the hands of wedlock, but by the bands of steel. The speaker hopes to live to see the time when these beautiful valleys through which we passed today will be filled with a happy and prosperous people, enjoying every facility for comfort, happiness and education. Gentlemen, I am no public speaker, but I can drive a spike!"

Suiting the action to the word, Mr. Crocker inserted the spike in the hole prepared for it, and with six blows of the silver hammer drove it to its resting place and the railroad connection between the two great California communities was an accomplished fact.

In 1976 the spike rests in the vaults of the California Historical Society in San Francisco. It weighs 9¼ ounces, is 5-7/16 inches long and is engraved as follows. Side 1 &mdash Last Spike Side 2 &mdash Connecting Los Angeles Side 3 &mdash And San Francisco Side 4 &mdash By Rail. On the head is engraved the date, Sept. 5, 1876.

The Golden Spike and other notable track completion ceremonies in the U.S. and Canada

Promontory Summit, Utah, may have hosted North America’s most famous final-spike ceremony, but the event on May 10, 1869, was not unique. Not all railroads had a completion “moment:” the New York Central is an example of a railroad formed through a series of mergers and consolidations, and others were built on multiple fronts and gradually placed into service.

Our research turned up 26 other last-spike events, some predating the Transcontinental Railroad, and one as recent as 1956. We suspect this is not an exhaustive list and welcome information on additional such ceremonies.

Want to find out more about the Transcontinental Railroad?

Facts, figures, history, and more are available from our special Journey to Promontory magazine, available at our partner shop, the Kalmbach Hobby Store.

Great Northern

Jan. 6, 1893, Madison, Wash. (now Scenic, Wash.) Only two GN o¬fficials are present for the spike-driving ceremony, according to “The Great Northern Railway: A History” (Hidy, Hidy, Scott, and Hofsommer).

Spokane, Portland & Seattle
March 11, 1908, at Sheridan’s Point, Wash., milepost 50.5. Completes the Portland & Seattle’s line from Kennewick, Wash., to Vancouver, Wash.

Western Pacific

Nov. 1, 1909, Keddie, Calif. The last spike is driven “without ceremony” on the steel bridge curving over Spanish Creek, according to David F. Myrick’s “Western Pacific: The Last Transcontinental Railroad.”

Alaska Railroad

July 15, 1923, North Nenana, Alaska. President Warren G. Harding misses twice before connecting to drive the spike home. In poor health, he dies in San Francisco on the return trip from the ceremony to Washington, D.C.

Pacific Great Eastern (BC Rail)

Sept. 12, 1952, milepost 369.1 near Ahbua Creek, B.C. June 10, 1956, milepost 26.2 near Britannia Beach, B.C. On the first date, a silver spike marks the completion of the route from Squamish, B.C., to Prince George on the second, a copper spike marks the completion of the extension from Squamish to North Vancouver.

Grand Trunk Pacific
April 7, 1914, 1 mile east of Fort Fraser, B.C. Completes route from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert

Canadian Pacific
Nov. 7, 1885, Craigellachie, B.C. Donald Smith, later known as Lord Strathcona, drives the last spike.

Canadian Northern
Jan. 23, 1915, Basque, B.C. Completes route from Montreal to Vancouver. Bankruptcy of Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern, among others, led to creation of Canadian National in 1918.

Northern Pacific

Aug. 22, 1883, Independence Gulch, Mont. A formal ceremony with four trains of guests, including former President Ulysses S. Grant, is held at the more scenic Gold Creek, Mont., on Sept. 8, 1883, fulfilling NP President Henry Villard’s desire for a large event to generate publicity.

Milwaukee Road
March 29, 1909, just east of Missoula, Mont. Completes the railroad’s Western Extension. Last-spike ceremonies were not held until May 19, 1909, at Gold Creek, Mont., 7 miles west of Garrison, Mont.

Central Pacific/Union Pacific

May 10, 1869, Promontory Summit, Utah. The most famous of all Last Spike ceremonies, completing the Pacific Railroad.

Denver & Rio Grande
March 30, 1883, west of Green River, Utah

Fort Worth & Denver City

March 14, 1888, at Union Park, New Mexico Territory (near the present Folsom, N.M.) Completes the route between its namesake cities.

Texas & Pacific

Dec. 15, 1881, Sierra Blanca, Texas. Jay Gould drives a silver spike to join the T&P to the Southern Pacific, according to an agreement reached by Gould and SP’s C.P. Huntington on Nov. 26, 1881.

Southern Pacific
Jan. 12, 1883, Pecos River bridge, near Comstock, Texas. Completes Sunset Route from California to New Orleans.

Kansas City Southern
Sept. 11, 1897, near Beaumont, Texas. Completes through route from Kansas City to Port Arthur, Texas, for the predecessor Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad.

Green Bay & Western

December 1873, Marshland Junction, Wis. (near East Winona, Wis.) Completing predecessor Green Bay & Minnesota’s route from Green Bay to the Mississippi River, built in 25 months. Roadmaster B.P. Roberts, who had driven the first spike, also drives the last at a junction with the Chicago & North Western.

Minneapolis & St. Louis

Nov. 12, 1877, Albert Lea, Minn. Completion of the main line between the namesake cities. Don L. Hofsommer’s “The Tootin’ Louie” notes the last spike is driven “shortly before the arrival of a splendidly appointed excursion train from Minneapolis, which stopped only briefly before hurrying on to ceremonies at the state line and then returning for a ‘sumptous repast’ and jovial ‘speech-making’ at the Hall House.”

New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate Road)

1882, Bellevue, Ohio. Chicago-Bu¬ffalo route is completed Sept. 1, 1882. Taylor Hampton’s 1947 book “The Nickel Plate Road” says Bellevue held an elaborate ceremony with a nickel-plated spike at its roundhouse (without specifying a date), but an article on the City of Bellevue website quotes a 1932 Bellevue Gazette article saying the spike was never actually driven (without explaining why).

Illinois Central

Sept. 27, 1856, south of Eff¬ingham, Ill. Marks completion of the original charter lines, a Y-shaped system from Dunleith in northwestern Illinois and Chicago in the northeast to Cairo. At the time of its completion, the 705-mile railroad is the world’s longest.


April 19, 1851, at Cuba, N.Y. Completes the line between the Hudson River and Lake Erie for predecessor New York & Erie.

Pennsylvania Railroad

Feb. 15, 1854, Horseshoe Curve. Completes the Mountain Division, allowing through service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. While several books note the event, none mention an accompanying ceremony.

Baltimore & Ohio

Dec. 24, 1852, Rosbys Rock, near Moundsville, W.Va. Completes the original line from Baltimore to the Ohio River a celebration of the opening is held Jan. 11, 1853, in Wheeling, W.Va.

Seaboard Air Line

June 2, 1900, Richmond, Va.
Last spike is driven at Main Street Station, symbolizing the completion of the SAL as a consolidated company.

Jan. 29, 1909, west end of the New River Bridge, Glen Lyn, Va. The celebration of completion was not held until April 1909 in Norfolk, Va.

Feb. 8, 1915, at Trammel, Va. Last spike was at the south siding switch. A “golden spike” ceremony was held the next day.

Official photograph from the “Golden Spike” Ceremony, 1869

This iconic photograph records the celebration marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad lines at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, when Leland Stanford, co-founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, connected the eastern and western sections of the railroad with a golden spike. This “joining of the rails” was the culmination of work commenced in 1863 when the Central Pacific began laying track eastward from Sacramento, California, and the Union Pacific started laying track westward from Omaha, Nebraska, in July of 1865. To meet its manpower needs, the Central Pacific hired 15,000 laborers, of whom more than 13,000 were Chinese immigrants. These immigrants were paid less than white workers, and, unlike whites, had to provide their own lodging. The crew had the formidable task of laying the track across California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, blasting fifteen tunnels to cover 1,776 miles with 4,814 feet of new track.

A close study of the photograph reveals that the Chinese workers who were present that day have been excluded. This absence encourages students to consider that all photographs reflect choices made by the artist—and to question accepting photographs as complete or comprehensive records of historical events.

Golden Spike 150th Anniversary Model 1873.

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Available exclusively through Sportsman's Warehouse. LIMITED NUMBERS ARE STILL AVAILABLE. A limited edition lever-action rifle, rich satin oil finish Grade V/VI black walnut, commemorative medallion set into stock, nickel-plated receiver and blued steel octagon barrel with unique gold etching and engraving, rifle-style fore-end cap and crescent butt plate.

WINNING THE WEST -- MODEL 1873. Both the Winchester Model 1873 and its predecessor, the Model 1866, are key to the winning of the American West. The predecessor to the Model 1873 -- the 1866 Yellow Boy -- played a key role in providing food and security during the building of the transcontinental railroad. But only four short years after the meeting of the rails, the nation was in motion like never before and Winchester had an improved lever action rifle: the Model 1873. With the ease- and speed-of-travel offered by the new railroad system, the Model 1873 became indispensable to farmers, ranchers, and other settlers who were using the railroad as their way to "Go West."

The Model 1873 came West in the hands of huge numbers of people seeking the American Dream and looking for a new way of life. Over time, the Model 1873 proved itself as one of the greatest rifles in history, and earned its title as "The Gun That Won The West."

Sportsman's Warehouse is proud to offer:

  • A special version of the legendary Model 1873 Winchester Rifle.
  • Inextricably connected to the transcontinental railroad.
  • Now offered in a 150th Golden Spike Anniversary Commemorative Edition.
  • Only available through Sportsman's Warehouse.
  • In very limited numbers.


A Golden Dedication for I-90

The nation celebrated completion of Interstate 90 after contractors paved the last four-miles of freeway near Blue Earth in 1978. Reminiscent of the "Golden Spike" that symbolized completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad in 1869, officials arranged to tint a small section of I-90's pavement gold. Also, like the two locomotives that met at the juncture of the transcontinental railroad to represent east meeting west, two Minnesota National Guard trucks met at the union of I-90, a National Interstate Defense Highway. Officials praised the new highway, citing its promise of safer and faster travel linking the nation.

Celebrants, including national and state officials, contractors, Miss America and area residents, gathered in the area now occupied by the Blue Earth Rest Areas. Many attendees received pens with the inscription "I-90 Golden Spike Dedication, Sept. 23, 1978". The celebration included a flyover by Minnesota Air National Guard jets and the debut of a 56-foot tall replica of the Jolly Green Giant which has overlooked the City of Blue Earth ever since. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by 2,500 people, a line of vintage cars and trucks crossed the gold pavement.

Planning for the $256 million project began in 1958. Stretching from Boston to Seattle, I-90 is the nation's longest and

the northernmost east-to-west, coast-to-coast interstate. At 70 mph it would take a motorist 44 hours to travel its length.

Like the other interstate highways, I-90 lived up to expectations by providing faster and safer travel. The Interstates brought other changes, both positive and negative. Some communities experienced economic growth while others suffered as business moved away from older highways. I-90's impact in southern Minnesota continues to shape the region.

Erected by the City of Blue Earth and Faribault County.

Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Roads & Vehicles.

Location. 43° 39.546′ N, 94° 6.735′ W. Marker is near Blue Earth, Minnesota, in Faribault County. Marker can be reached from Interstate 90 at milepost 118, 0.6 miles west of U.S. 169, on the right when traveling east. The marker is at the rest area along eastbound Interstate 90. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Blue Earth MN 56013, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 2 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Exploring Southwestern Minnesota (within shouting distance of this marker) Minnesota Agriculture (approx. 0.4 miles away).

Regarding A Golden Dedication for I-90. There was no apparent remnant of the gold-colored portion

'Orbis Spike' in 1610 marks humanity's first major impact on planet Earth

While 1492 may have been the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, it also marks the start of a mass swapping of species between the Old World and the New World as Europe began colonizing the Americas.

Research published Wednesday from University College of London (UCL) and Leeds University Professor Simon Lewis and UCL Professor Mark Maslin argues that just over 100 years later -- 1610 -- is when those actions dramatically changed the planet Earth.

As a result, they say, 1610 deserves to be designated as the start of the Anthropocene Epoch.

The Anthropocene is known as the "human epoch," and scientists have debated its exact starting point for some time. For a new epoch to begin, Lewis and Maslin assert, two conditions must be satisfied. "Long-lasting changes to the Earth must be documented. Scientists must also pinpoint and date a global environmental change that has been captured in natural material, such as rocks, ancient ice or sediment from the ocean floor. Such a marker -- like the chemical signature left by the meteorite strike that wiped out the dinosaurs -- is called a golden spike," according to a statement about their research.

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The researchers picked 1610 because they believe it best satisfies these two criteria.

Satisfying the first condition is the fact that the wide-scale swapping of species between continents that began in 1492 was first truly felt in 1610. "This rapid, repeated, cross-ocean exchange of species is without precedent in Earth's history," according to the researchers.

For the second "golden spike" condition to be satisfied, the researchers turned to core samples of Antarctic ice, which showed a dramatic dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 1610. They theorize that this was caused by the rampant death that followed the colonizers in the New World as an estimated 50 million people were exterminated, largely by smallpox. Because many of those people were farmers -- especially in Latin America -- when their fields were no longer tended, trees were able to grow back and suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

/>This chart shows the intercontinental swapping that began in 1492 and was fully felt in 1610, according to researchers. The chart includes the introduction of smallpox, measles and typhus to the New World. University College of London

"The growth of all those trees had sucked enough carbon dioxide out of the sky to cause a drop of at least seven parts per million in atmospheric concentrations of the most prominent greenhouse gas and start a little ice age," says a report in Scientific American.

The researchers decided to name the carbon dioxide dip the "Orbis Spike," using the Latin word for "world," because it marks the first time planet inhabitants intermingled so dramatically.

An official decision about the Anthropocene Epoch and the proposal to set it at 1610 is expected from the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission of Quaternary Stratigraphy in 2016. These things do, after all, take time.

"In a hundred thousand years scientists will look at the environmental record and know something remarkable happened in the second half of the second millennium," Lewis said in a statement about the research, which was published in the journal Nature.

"They will be in no doubt that these global changes to Earth were caused by their own species. Today we can say when those changes began and why. The Anthropocene probably began when species jumped continents, starting when the Old World met the New. We humans are now a geological power in our own right -- as Earth-changing as a meteorite strike."


O n 10 May 1869 from Promontory Summit northwest of Ogden, Utah, a single telegraphed word, "done," signaled to the nation the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Railroad crews of the Union Pacific, 8,000 to 10,000 Irish, German, and Italian immigrants, had pushed west from Omaha, Nebraska. At Promontory they met crews of the Central Pacific, which had included over 10,000 Chinese laborers, who had built the line east from Sacramento, California.

Actually, the construction crews built several miles of track parallel to each other. The federal legislation chartering the transcontinental project had not provided that the tracks join. There was nothing to prevent each line from continuing to build and thus increase the subsidies it might receive from the federal government. Therefore, Congress acted to set the meeting point at Promontory.

The ceremony that day to mark the completion of the last set of ties and spikes was somewhat disorganized. The crowd pressed so close to the engines that reporters could not see or hear much of what was actually said, which accounts for many discrepancies in the various accounts.

Union Pacific's No. 119 and Central Pacific's "Jupiter" engines lined up facing each other on the tracks, separated only by the width of one rail. Leland Stanford, one of the "Big Four" of the Central Pacific, had brought four ceremonial spikes. The famed "Golden Spike" was presented by David Hewes, a San Francisco construction magnate. It was engraved with the names of the Central Pacific directors, special sentiments appropriate to the occasion, and, on the head, the notation "the Last Spike." A second golden spike was presented by the San Francisco News Letter . A silver spike was Nevada's contribution, and a spike blended of iron, silver, and gold represented Arizona. These spikes were dropped into a pre-bored laurelwood tie during the ceremony. No spike represented Utah, and Mormon Church leaders were conspicuous by their absence.

At 12:47 P.M. the actual last spike--an ordinary iron spike--was driven into a regular tie. Both spike and sledge were wired to send the sound of the strikes over the wire to the nation. However, Stanford and Thomas Durant from the Union Pacific both missed the spike. Still, telegraph operator Shilling clicked three dots over the wire: "done." Meanwhile, with an unwired sledge, construction supervisors James H. Strobridge and Samuel R. Reed took turns driving the last spike.

For several weeks Promontory continued to be a town of tents and crude shacks. The land speculators, petty merchants, saloon keepers, gamblers, and prostitutes who had followed these tent cities stayed only as long as there were workers to entice. But, unlike many of these "hell on wheels" camps, Promontory never became the site of a permanent city.

In 1901 the Central Pacific steam engine "Jupiter" was scrapped for iron. The Union Pacific's No. 119 was scrapped two years later. The 1903-04 construction of the Lucin Cutoff siphoned most of the traffic from Promontory's "Old Line." The last tie of laurel was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. One of the supporting ties had been used as a roof beam in a barn that Edgar Stone, the fireman on the Jupiter, had built in North Ogden. Only the "Last Spike" remained--ensconced at Stanford University.

In 1942 the old rails over the 123-mile Promontory Summit line were salvaged for war efforts in ceremonies marking the "Undriving of the Golden Spike." Artifact hunters picked over the area for ties and materials. The event of the completing of the transcontinental railroad, which some historians had compared in significance to the Declaration of Independence, seemed to fade from public consciousness.

However, a memorial marker of the "Last Spike" had been placed along the right-of-way in 1943, and in the years after World War II local residents began marking the event. In the 1948 reenactment of the driving of the last spike, miniature locomotives were furnished by the Southern Pacific. In 1951 a monument to the event was dedicated and placed in front of the Union Station in Ogden. In 1957 Congress established a seven-acre tract as the Golden Spike National Historic Site. Bernice Gibbs Anderson of Corinne organized the National Golden Spike Society in 1959 to promote the site. In 1965 Congress enlarged to site to encompass 2,176 acres and be administered by the National Park Service. That same year Weber County extended the highway from 12th Street to Promontory, which made access to the site easier.

The enthusiasm to mark the centennial of the transcontinental railroad grew during the next few years. Searches were made for old engines, a commission to plan the reenactment was organized, the Golden Spike Monument was moved 150 feet to the northwest, and the National Park Service began the reconstruction of the two railroad grades, the lines of track, and two telegraph lines, as well as switches and siding connections.

The engines used in the 1969 ceremonies were modified to resemble the originals. From 1970 to 1980 the annual reenactment used two vintage locomotives on loan from Nevada. But, in 1980, with water from Liberty Island in New York Harbor and Fort Point in San Francisco Bay, two replica steamers constructed by Chadwell O'Connor Engineering Laboratories of Costa Mesa, California, were dedicated. Built with $1.5 million in federal funds, these were the first steam engines constructed in the United States in twenty-five years. They now run daily from May to August and from Christmas to New Year's Day. Park Service personnel at the Golden Spike Information Center, also dedicated in 1980, can direct visitors to walking and driving tours along the old grades, as well as to photo and other exhibits celebrating the transcontinental railroad.

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994.