All Aboard! 10 May 1869, 150 Years Ago Yesterday

 

On 10 May 1869, 150 years ago yesterday, the newly reunited United States were tied together, from coast to coast with the first transcontinental railroad. Without any modern construction or surveying tools, the two teams, building towards each other from east and west, met in Promontory, Utah. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad presidents met and drove a ceremonial final spike. With this, transportation accelerated far beyond any prior technology.

The inherent efficiency of even wood or coal steam engines over animal and sail power meant those modes would change. Horse or oxen would now service hubs defined by rail stops. The stops, necessary to refueling with coal and water, became towns. The glorious era of clipper ships was cut short, the golden spike puncturing their whole business model as surely as the rocky coast of Cape Horn could hull them. @seawriter can tell that tale far better.

The original wire story from AP has been reprinted in honor of the 150th anniversary of linking the United States by rail.

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There are 18 comments.

  1. David Foster Member

    Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general who became a railroad president, offered some thoughts about the relationship between transporation and political structure:

    Well that (state’s rights) was the issue of the war; & as we were defeated that right was surrendered & a limit put on state sovereignty. And the South is now entirely satisfied with that result. And the reason of it is very simple. State sovereignty was doubtless a wise political instution for the condition of this vast country in the last century. But the railroad, and the steamboat & the telegraph began to transform things early in this century & have gradually made what may almost be called a new planet of it… Our political institutions have had to change… Briefly we had the right to fight, but our fight was against what might be called a Darwinian development – or an adaptation to changed & changing conditions – so we need not greatly regret defeat.

    …which raises the question–if the railroad, steamboat, and telegraph eliminated (or at least greatly constrained) the case for state sovereignty…does the development of the container ship, the Internet, and the jet plane have the same implication for national sovereignty?

    Discussion of this question at my post What Are the Limits of the Alexander Analysis?

     

    • #1
    • May 10, 2019, at 6:21 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Clifford A. Brown: The glorious era of clipper ships was cut short, the golden spike puncturing their whole business model as surely as the rocky coast of Cape Horn could hull them.

    Actually, it was the Suez Canal that really did that with a much faster route to get tea from the east to Britain and Europe. That was also 1869. Yes, clippers were also running from New York to San Francisco, but had only the railroad happened, they would have kept running elsewhere.

    • #2
    • May 10, 2019, at 6:47 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: The glorious era of clipper ships was cut short, the golden spike puncturing their whole business model as surely as the rocky coast of Cape Horn could hull them.

    Actually, it was the Suez Canal that really did that with a much faster route to get tea from the east to Britain and Europe. That was also 1869. Yes, clippers were also running from New York to San Francisco, but had only the railroad happened, they would have kept running elsewhere.

    Very cool. 

    • #3
    • May 10, 2019, at 7:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Shauna Hunt Member

    I considered writing about this event today because it’s in my home state. It was an awesome task and a great blessing! I’m ashamed to say that I have never been to The Golden Spike monument. It’s especially crazy because I have a boy who loves trains! :)

    • #4
    • May 10, 2019, at 7:58 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: The glorious era of clipper ships was cut short, the golden spike puncturing their whole business model as surely as the rocky coast of Cape Horn could hull them.

    Actually, it was the Suez Canal that really did that with a much faster route to get tea from the east to Britain and Europe. That was also 1869. Yes, clippers were also running from New York to San Francisco, but had only the railroad happened, they would have kept running elsewhere.

    I had that in the edge of my brain as well. Tea clippers. I wonder about the relative fleet sizes on the two great routes.

    • #5
    • May 11, 2019, at 12:18 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Shauna Hunt (View Comment):

    I considered writing about this event today because it’s in my home state. It was an awesome task and a great blessing! I’m ashamed to say that I have never been to The Golden Spike monument. It’s especially crazy because I have a boy who loves trains! :)

    I fear I have yet to hike the Grand Canyon. 26 years in Arizona. I’ve seen most of the southern and central state, but no big hike.

    • #6
    • May 11, 2019, at 12:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Arahant Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I had that in the edge of my brain as well. Tea clippers. I wonder about the relative fleet sizes on the two great routes.

    Here’s a list.

    • #7
    • May 11, 2019, at 12:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    It is also the 50th anniversary of one of the most brutal battles of the Vietnam War:

    https://ricochet.com/621804/heroes-of-hamburger-hill-10-may-1969/

    • #8
    • May 11, 2019, at 1:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. I Walton Member

    “…which raises the question–if the railroad, steamboat, and telegraph eliminated (or at least greatly constrained) the case for state sovereignty…does the development of the container ship, the Internet, and the jet plane have the same implication for national sovereignty?”

    Or do they illustrate how people who live in towns, cities and states lost control of the way people actually live. They lost it to larger abstractions that don’t care about them and which cannot wield power as meaningfully to their lives. A free economy is the only defense against these usurpers and allows both great efficiency, freedom and a thriving and more enduring local culture. 

    • #9
    • May 11, 2019, at 3:54 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Stad Thatcher

    Trivia: Three other special spikes were driven into the tie before the famous, final “Golden Spike”. The tie itself was made of a special wood.

    • #10
    • May 11, 2019, at 5:35 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Gary Robbins Reagan

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Shauna Hunt (View Comment):

    I considered writing about this event today because it’s in my home state. It was an awesome task and a great blessing! I’m ashamed to say that I have never been to The Golden Spike monument. It’s especially crazy because I have a boy who loves trains! :)

    I fear I have yet to hike the Grand Canyon. 26 years in Arizona. I’ve seen most of the southern and central state, but no big hike.

    Build up to it. Slowly, but persistently. In Tucson, climb the mountains that ring Tucson. In Phoenix, hike up Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. In Flagstaff, climb to the top of the San Francisco Peaks.

    At the Grand Canyon, it is easier to go down than up, so turn around to go back up after you have used up only a quarter of your energy. And carry huge amounts of water. Your first hike should be only a mile and a half into the canyon, either to Cedar Ridge on the Kiabab Trail, or to “Mile and a Half House” on the Bright Angel Trail. The next time you can go half-way to Indian Gardens. The third time you can go to Phantom Ranch, and stay in the hiker dorms, and reserve meals at Phantom Ranch.

    Don’t hike by yourself. Strongly consider riding the mules; with your gear and clothes you must weigh less than 200 pounds to go on the mules.

    • #11
    • May 11, 2019, at 7:48 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Arahant Member

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    with your gear and clothes you must weigh less than 200 pounds to go on the mules.

    Can I get two mules?

    • #12
    • May 11, 2019, at 7:56 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Goddess Bless us, Mr Brown – I remember that too. I never realized you are as old as me.

    Now I am off to read the AP link you have offered us here. I am hoping to enjoy it as much on the second reading as I did the first time around.

    (Feeling very old today: Adopted grand nephew and friend are here, not believing I grew up in a home that did not have videos or cell phones. And that when we needed to switch TV channels,we had to walk to the television set and manually do it!)

     

    • #13
    • May 11, 2019, at 9:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Stad Thatcher

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    with your gear and clothes you must weigh less than 200 pounds to go on the mules.

    Can I get two mules?

    Only with Sister Sarah as a trade-in . . .

    • #14
    • May 11, 2019, at 10:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Stad Thatcher

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    At the Grand Canyon, it is easier to go down than up, so turn around to go back up after you have used up only a quarter of your energy. And carry huge amounts of water.

    Sound advice. As a stupid, immortal teenager, I hiked halfway down and back up without water. Part way back up, I was begging for water, and some kind hikers gave me a swig. I guess I didn’t get as far as the water station, which I found out was halfway down . . .

    • #15
    • May 11, 2019, at 10:13 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Miffed White Male Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    At the Grand Canyon, it is easier to go down than up, so turn around to go back up after you have used up only a quarter of your energy. And carry huge amounts of water.

    Sound advice. As a stupid, immortal teenager, I hiked halfway down and back up without water. Part way back up, I was begging for water, and some kind hikers gave me a swig. I guess I didn’t get as far as the water station, which I found out was halfway down . . .

    In Glacier Park in Montana two years ago they had a heat wave in August and had to do a bunch of medivacs from the Highline trail [I hear they were doing a couple a day for a while]. There was a section that had burned off the tree coverage in a fire a few years earlier, and the geology of the area basically turned that part of the trail (down to the loop) into a dutch oven. So they stationed a ranger at the trailhead at Logan Pass to do water checks on anybody who was planning to walk that far.

    • #16
    • May 11, 2019, at 11:41 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Clifford A. Brown:

    On 10 May 1869, 150 years ago yesterday, the newly reunited United States were tied together, from coast to coast with the first transcontinental railroad. Without any modern construction or surveying tools, the two teams, building towards each other from east and west, met in Promontory, Utah. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad presidents met and drove a ceremonial final spike. With this, transportation accelerated far beyond any prior technology.

    The inherent efficiency of even wood or coal steam engines over animal and sail power meant those modes would change. Horse or oxen would now service hubs defined by rail stops. The stops, necessary to refueling with coal and water, became towns. The glorious era of clipper ships was cut short, the golden spike puncturing their whole business model as surely as the rocky coast of Cape Horn could hull them. @seawriter can tell that tale far better.

    The original wire story from AP has been reprinted in honor of the 150th anniversary of linking the United States by rail.

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    At the Grand Canyon, it is easier to go down than up, so turn around to go back up after you have used up only a quarter of your energy. And carry huge amounts of water.

    Sound advice. As a stupid, immortal teenager, I hiked halfway down and back up without water. Part way back up, I was begging for water, and some kind hikers gave me a swig. I guess I didn’t get as far as the water station, which I found out was halfway down . . .

    In Glacier Park in Montana two years ago they had a heat wave in August and had to do a bunch of medivacs from the Highline trail [I hear they were doing a couple a day for a while]. There was a section that had burned off the tree coverage in a fire a few years earlier, and the geology of the area basically turned that part of the trail (down to the loop) into a dutch oven. So they stationed a ranger at the trailhead at Logan Pass to do water checks on anybody who was planning to walk that far.

    Yes, and you can also kill yourself, or end up being medivaced, if you drink too much water. The linked book, Ranger Confidential, was well worth reading.

    • #17
    • May 11, 2019, at 1:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Cow Girl Thatcher

    I was there yesterday at the Golden Spike shindig, at Promontory Point! My dear oldest son (who lives in Salt Lake City) went to the trouble of getting us a pass to the celebration, and he and I drove out there to the (seriously) Middle of Nowhere, and joined the crowd. It was so cool. I’ll write a post about it later. Talk about Mother’s Day love—he nailed it,

    • #18
    • May 11, 2019, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • 6 likes