Friday, May 10, 2019

May 10, 1869: Promontony Point, Utah: The Transcontinental Railroad United the States of the United States

East met West. The Central Pacific met the Union Pacific. The Jupiter met the 119. The products of the East could cross the produce of the West. California Governor Leland Stanford drove the 17.6 karat Golden Spike, made in California, to unite the track. The Civil War united the Union politically, but not geographically The East and Midwest were separated from California by over 1,000 miles of territories. The completed route was 1776 miles (690 miles on the SP and 1086 miles on the UP) from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. Options to California included three months by Wagon Train. If they erred, they could end up like the Donner party. Ships around Cape Horn were an alternative. The shipment of the locomotives, cars, track, switches and other supplies took 200 days to get from the East to the West via Cape Horn. A variation would be ship to the Isthmus of Panama, over land, and then a ship on the other coast. An express train from New York City on June 4, 1876 reached San Francisco, California in 83 hours and 39 minutes. The railroad had been contemplated for over a decade, but two related political issues prevented its construction. The first was the location of the eastern terminus: Would it be in the North or South? The second was a fear by the South was that a transcontinental railroad would lead to non-slave states in the western territory, as in Bloody Kansas. The South seceded. The railroad succeeded. The Pacific Railway Act of July 1, 1862 authorized construction from Omaha, Nebraska (outside the reach of the Confederate Army) to Sacramento, California. The Big Four became fabulously rich. The Central Pacific morphed into the Southern Pacific, which labeled itself as the “Friendly SP,” but was best known as “The Octopus.” It’s unofficial operating motto was “All the traffic will bear.” The “Big Four,” Governor Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington, names are still prominent in California, especially Stanford University. The transcontinental Railroad was a harbinger of the future. First, it was financed by government subsidies. 30 year government bonds paying 6%. $16,000/20 mile section on the plains, $32,000/20 mile section on the plateau between the Rockies and the Sierras, and $48,000/20 mile section in the mountains. The Central Pacific got Congress to move the Sierras west to increase the mountain mileage. The other subsidy was giving the railroads alternate sections of land (about 1280 square miles) in a checkboard pattern per mile of track Two other transcontinental railroads, the Northern Pacific and the Santa Fe also reived federal government subsidies. Second, it was characterized by corruption and shady business practices. The Central Pacific’s Big Four and the financiers of the Union Pacific, especially Thomas C. Durant created their privately owned construction companies to siphon off moneys from the railroads. The UP’s company was the Credit Mobilier of America , characterized by bribery, corruption, stock manipulation, and bankruptcy by the Union Pacific within three years of the Golden Spike. The Credit Mobilier was one of the first great financial scandals of the young nation. Third, the railroads played games with the government subsidies. The railroads met in Promontory Point instead of Ogden, Utah to add an additional 43 miles of track. Fourth, the Army, led first by Sherman and then by Sheridan, was sent West to protect the railroad. The railroad spanned the country, but at a cost. The Army was sent West to protect the railroads. The Native Americans were placed in reservations and the Buffalo rendered nearly extinct. The Central Pacific hired Chinese to build much of the railroad. They worked harder for less wages than the whites, engendering eight decades of racial prejudice against Asian Americans.

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