Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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May 10th
The Transcontinental Railroad
It was the most daring engineering effort of its time. Many said it couldn’t be done. The challenge: join East and West by building a railroad across the bulk of the continent and some of the most rugged terrain on earth. One congressman said they might as well try to build a railroad to the moon.

The Union Pacific Railroad started building west from Omaha, Nebraska, in 1863 while the Central Pacific Railroad built east from San Francisco. The plan was to meet somewhere in the middle.

It took six years and two armies totaling 20,000 men. Many of the workers were immigrants from China and Ireland who sweated long hours for one or two dollars a day. They laid tracks across hundreds of miles of prairie and scorching desert. They pushed over heights of 8,000 feet and tunneled their way through hard mountain ridges, sometimes at a rate of only a few inches per day.  They bridged stream after stream. The tracks crossed one river alone thirty-one times.

In winter the workers plowed through snowdrifts ten feet high or more. It took thousands of men just to shovel the tracks clear. Sometimes avalanches carried whole crews over the edges of mountains.

On May 10, 1869, the two tracks finally met at Promontory Point, Utah. Officials hammered in the last spike – a golden one bearing the inscription, “May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.” A telegrapher sent a signal to the country: “Done!” From New York to San Francisco, the nation cheered.

The transcontinental railroad was the first in the world to cross a continent. It tied America together, helped open the West to settlers, and proved that Americans were a people willing to tackle the impossible.

American History Parade
1775
Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys capture British-held Fort Ticonderoga in New York.

1865
Union troops capture Confederate president Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia.

1869
The transcontinental railroad is completed at Promontory Point, Utah.

1872
The Equal Rights Party nominates Victoria Woodhull as the first woman presidential candidate.

1908
The first Mother’s Day services take place in Grafton, West Virginia and Philadelphia.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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