Historic telegrams tell the story of how the Transcontinental Railroad ushered in new era
(Andrew Russell | Union Pacific via AP) In this May 10, 1869, file photo, provided by the Union Pacific, railroad officials and employees celebrate the completion of the first railroad transcontinental link in Promontory, Utah. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was a pivotal moment in the United States, ushering in a period of progress and expansion nationwide. The Union Pacific's Locomotive No. 119, right, and Central Pacific's Jupiter edged forward over the golden spike that marked the joining of the nation by rail.
• Editor’s Note:
The May 10, 1869, completion of the Transcontinental Railroad
was a pivotal moment in the United States, ushering in a period of progress and expansion nationwide.
The presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in remote Promontory, Utah, to mark the occasion, driving a last ceremonial spike o connect their rail lines.
The Baltimore Sun, relying on telegraphed dispatches by other cities and The Associated Press, published the following article on the event and how it was celebrated across the U.S. It first appeared on May 11, 1869.
The AP is reprinting it in honor of the Transcontinental Railroad’s 150th anniversary
(AP file photo) In this April 28, 1869, file photo, workers laying tracks for Central Pacific Railroad pause for a moment at camp "Victory," a few miles from Promontory, Utah. The May 10, 1869, completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was a pivotal moment in the United States, ushering in a period of progress and expansion nationwide.
The presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in remote Promontory, Utah, to mark the occasion, driving a last ceremonial spike to connect their rail lines.
Completion of the Pacific Railroad
Official Announcement — Telegraphing the Hammer Strokes — Rejoicing and Congratulation — Ringing of Bells and Other Demonstrations.
Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, noon. — To the Associated Press: The last rail is laid. The last spike is driven. The Pacific railroad is completed. The point of junction is 1,086 miles west of the Missouri river, and 690 miles east of Sacramento.
LELAND STANFORD, Central Pacific Railroad
T.C. DURANT, SIDNEY DILLON, JOHN DUFF, Union Pacific Railroad
The news received in New York
New York, May 10. — The last spike in the Pacific railroad was driven today at five minutes past 3 o’clock P.M., New York time. San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Plaister Cove, the end of the cable, were connected with Promontory Point by telegraph, and the hammer strokes on the last spike were duly transmitted according to arrangement.
When the news was received in New York a hundred guns were fired in the City Hall Park, and Mayor Hall forwarded a congratulatory message to the Mayor of San Francisco. A commemorative celebration had previously been held in Trinity Church, at which a telegram forwarded by the Chamber of Commerce to the Chamber in San Francisco was read, and an address delivered by Rev. Dr. Vinton.
After prayer and reading of portions of the Episcopal service, the organ pealed and chimes rung as the large congregation left the church. Flags on the city hall and on many public and private buildings were displayed all day in honor of the great event.
(AP file photo) In this May 10, 1969, file photo, Associated Press White House correspondents Doug Cornell, left, and Frank Cormier, right, watch as Western Union officials receive a direct wire Morse message in Miami from Promontory, Utah. The message was a duplicate of the one sent 100 years earlier after the completion of the first railroad transcontinental link. Another message was sent to President Nixon nearby in Key Biscayne, Fla., like the one sent to President Grant 100 years earlier.
Free trade and the Pacific Railroad
A meeting of the American Free Trade League of New York was held at Cooper Institute tonight at which many of the prominent members of the organization were present. David Dudley Field called the assemblage to order, and Howard Potter presided. Addresses were delivered by William Cullen Bryant and Edward Atkinson, and the following resolution was adopted:
"Resolved, That in the opening of the great Pacific railroad today, connecting New York and San Francisco, we recognize a pledge, not only for one country, one constitution and one destiny, but with a due regard to the revenue, for the freest sort of trade with all countries and all continents."
Ringing the bells in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, May 10. — At 2:30 o'clock P.M. precisely, Philadelphia time, the news was received of the driving of the last spike of the Pacific railroad. Word was sent to the mayor, and in a few minutes the bells in Independence Hall and the various fire stations were rung, drawing crowds into the streets under the impression that a general alarm of fire was being rung. The people soon ascertained the reason of the ringing of the bells, and flags were immediately displayed everywhere. A large number of steam fire engines ranged in front of Independence Hall with screaming whistles and hose carriage bells ringing. Joy was expressed in every face at the completion of this great work of country. The sudden flocking of the people to the State House reminded one of the reception of the news of the surrender of Lee's army, when a similar scene was enacted.
Chicago, May 10. — The celebration of the completion of the great inter-ocean railroad connection today was the most successful affair of the kind that ever took place in Chicago, and probably in the West. It is entirely impromptu, and therefore almost every man, woman and child in the city did their part toward making it a success. The procession was unique in appearance and immense in length, the lowest estimate putting it down at seven miles. During the moving of the procession, Vice President Colfax received the following dispatch:
"Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10. — Hon. Schuyler Colfax, Vice President: The rails were connected today. The prophecy of Benton is today a fact. This is the way to India.
This evening Vice President Colfax, Lieut. Governor Bross and others addressed large audiences at Liberty Hall, in which they spoke eloquently of the great era which this day marks in the history of our country. During the evening there was general indulgence in fireworks, bonfires, illumination, &c.
The celebration elsewhere
There was great rejoicing over the event at Scranton, Pennsylvania, where cannon, bells and whistles of locomotives were employed to give eclat to the occasion.
In Buffalo, New York, a large gong was attached to the telegraph wire, and at 2:41 P.M. by the time of that city began to ring out the hammer strokes. The crowd sung the Star-Spangled Banner, and jubilee speeches were made by the orators.
Omaha dispatches say that telegrams from Echo City report that the troubles of the railroad laborers near Piedmont were amicably settled.
The AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.