Union Pacific Railroad

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United States  >  Migration  >  Railroads  >  Union Pacific Railroad

In 1869 the Union Pacific Railroad out of Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific Railroad out of Sacramento, California linked tracks in the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontroy Summit, Utah to form the first transcontinental railroad service in the United States.[1] Settlers were attracted to communities near railroads because they provided access to markets. Railroads encouraged settlement along their routes to help increase the need for their service. If an ancestor settled near a railroad, you may be able to trace their place of origin back to another place along the tracks.

Historical Background

In order to bind the nation together from California to the eastern states visionaries proposed a railroad between the west and east coasts of the United States. During the Civil War Congress authorized the building of this railroad. Congress offered land grants along the tracks in a checkerboard pattern as an incentive to the builders. The company that could build the most track would receive the most land.

Starting in 1865 in Omaha, Nebraska, the Union Pacific Railroad laid their first tracks. They slowly started their westward race toward the oncoming Central Pacific Railroad by building only 40 miles after spending $500,000. As the pace quickened Irish immigrants and soldiers looking for work at the end of the Civil War increased the size of the labor force. The Union Pacific faced a shortage of timber for railroad ties on the Great Plains of Nebraska, and had to defend themselves against hostile Indian attacks, and harsh weather. Eventually they would average a mile of new track a day. In Wyoming they were challenged by deep ravines, and the Weber River in Utah was crossed 31 times.[2] By the end of 1865 the end of the track had only reached Fremont, Nebraska. In late 1866 they reached North Platte, in 1867 Cheyanne, Wyoming, in late 1868 track reached Evanston, Wyoming.[3] On 10 May 1869 the Union Pacific joined track with the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah north of the Great Salt Lake to form the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.[4] In 1872 a bridge was completed across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Later in 1904 the Lucin Cutoff was completed across the Salt Lake to shorten the route to Ogden, Utah and avoid steep mountain grades and curves.[5]


The Union Pacific Railrad from east to west went through:

During most of its history, the Central Pacific tracks through Nevada to Ogden, Utah were controlled by the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Settlers and Records

Settlers using the Central Pacific Railroad were likely to be from Eastern or Midwestern states along the tracks of the Union Pacific and connectors such as Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah. Most would have settled in Utah, Nevada, or northern California.

There are no known Central Pacific Railroad passenger list records.



  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Central Pacific Railroad," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Central_Pacific_Railroad&oldid=299761457 (accessed 6 July 2009); Wikipedia contributors, "Union Pacific Railroad," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Union_Pacific_Railroad&oldid=298717292 (accessed 6 July 2009); Wikipedia contributors, "Golden spike," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Golden_spike&oldid=290578008 (accessed 6 July 2009), and Wikipedia contributors, "Promontory, Utah," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Promontory,_Utah&oldid=297584143 (accessed 6 July 2009).
  2. "Contruction" in Union Pacitic at http://www.uprr.com/aboutup/history/hist-ov/hist-ov4.shtml (accessed 14 July 2009).
  3. "Union Pacific Railroad End of Track Dateline 1865-1869" in Union Pacific at http://www.uprr.com/aboutup/maps/graphics/goldspik.gif (accessed 14 July 2009).
  4. "Central Pacific Railroad" in American Western History Musuems at http://www.linecamp.com/museums/americanwest/western_clubs/central_pacific_railroad/central_pacific_railroad.html (accessed 10 July 2009).
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Lucin Cutoff" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lucin_Cutoff (accessed 10 July 2009).