The Central Pacific Railroad Company of California was organized on June 28, 1861 by a group of Sacramento merchants known later as the "Big Four" (Collis P. Huntington, [Gov.]Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker); they are best remembered for having built the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad ("the Pacific Railroad") through California, Nevada, and Utah.
A practical mountain route for the rail line was first conceived and surveyed by an engineer, Theodore Dehone Judah, who obtained the financial backing of the California group and won federal support in the form of the Pacific Railway Act (1862), which provided land grants and subsidies to the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Each company was granted financial support from government bonds and awarded sizable parcels of land along the entire length of the track as an added incentive.
The Central Pacific began laying track eastward from Sacramento, California in February, 1863, and the Union Pacific started laying track westward from Omaha, Nebraska, two years later in July, 1865. To meet its manpower needs, the Central Pacific hired thousands of Chinese laborers, including many recruited from farms in Canton. The crew had the formidable task of laying the track crossing California's rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range and had to blast fifteen tunnels to accomplish this.
The crew of the Union Pacific, which was composed largely of Irish immigrants and Civil War veterans, had to contend with Indian attacks and the Rocky Mountains. On May 10, 1869, after completing 1,776 miles, 4,814 feet of new track, the two rail lines met at Promontory, Utah.
Last Update 01/30/01
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