What comes to mind when you think of the Transcontinental Railroad? The golden spike, right? But would you have thought of Thomas Jefferson? The Oregon missions? The Civil War? Chicago politics?
Available free online, The Story of the First Trans-continental Railroad: Its Projectors, Construction and History by W.F. Bailey gives a complete account of one of the nation’s most enterprising undertakings. The railroad symbolically bridged two epochs of American history, marking the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny and the beginning of the Old West era. It broke down the long-standing barrier of miles and filled the gap between sea and shining sea.
The Story of the First Trans-Continental Railroad is arranged by topic, instead of chronologically, which tends to make the story a little difficult to follow. However, it presents the whole picture, including overlooked aspects of the railroad’s history. Topics include:
- The beginnings of the idea of a transcontinental railroad.
- The role of the government.
- The source of funding.
- The effect Indian attacks had on the process.
- The history of the railroad after it was built (up to 1906).
While the majority of the book focuses on the Union Pacific part of the track, chapters are devoted to the Kansas Pacific, Denver Pacific, and Central Pacific lines, as well. An appendix includes histories of place-names along the railroad, a list of officials, statistics, and the stories of two men involved in the surveying and track-laying processes.
For those who love books about trains (and who doesn’t), The Story of the First Trans-Continental Railroad provides an interesting look into this exciting time in American history.