Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Driving of the Golden Spike ~ 1869

May 10, 1869

Completing the last link in the Transcontinental Railroad with a spike of gold was the brainchild of David Hewes, a San Francisco financier and contractor. The spike had been manufactured earlier that year especially for the event by the William T. Garratt Foundry in San Francisco. Two of the sides were engraved with the names of the railroad officers and directors. A special tie of polished California laurel was chosen to complete the line where the spike would be driven. The ceremony was originally to be held on May 8, 1869 (the date actually engraved on the spike; see below), but it was postponed two days because of bad weather and a labor dispute that delayed the arrival of the Union Pacific side of the rail line.

The Last Spike (1881) by Thomas Hill
On May 10, in anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (better known as the Jupiter) locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit, separated only by the width of a single tie. It is unknown how many people attended the event; estimates run from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000; government and railroad officials and track workers were present to witness the event.
Before the last spike was driven, three other commemorative spikes, presented on behalf of the other three members of the Central Pacific's Big Four who did not attend the ceremony, had been driven in the pre-bored laurel tie:
  • a second, lower-quality gold spike, supplied by the San Francisco News Letter was made of $200.00 worth of gold and inscribed: With this spike the San Francisco News Letter offers its homage to the great work which has joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
  • a silver spike, supplied by the State of Nevada; forged, rather than cast, of 25 ounces of unpolished silver.
  • a blended iron, silver and gold spike, supplied by the Arizona Territory, engraved: Ribbed with iron clad in silver and crowned with gold Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded a continent and dictated a pathway to commerce. (Source: Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City, April 24, 2007)
The golden spike was made of 17.6-karat(73%) copper-alloyed gold, and weighed 14.03 troy ounces (436 g). It was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel ceremonial last tie, and gently tapped into place with a silver ceremonial spike maul. The spike was engraved on all four sides:
  • The Pacific Railroad ground broken January 8, 1863, and completed May 8, 1869.
  • Directors of the C. P. R. R. of Cal. Hon. Leland Stanford. C. P. Huntington. E. B. Crocker. Mark Hopkins. A. P. Stanford. E. H. Miller Jr.
  • Officers. Hon. Leland Stanford. Presdt. C. P. Huntington Vice Presdt. E. B. Crocker. Atty. Mark Hopkins. Tresr. Chas Crocker Gen. Supdt. E. H. Miller Jr. Secty. S. S. Montague. Chief Engr.
  • May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world. Presented by David Hewes San Francisco.
A second golden spike, exactly like the one from the ceremony, was cast and engraved at the same time. It was held, unknown to the public, by the Hewes family until 2005. This second spike is now on permanent display, along with Thomas Hill's famous painting The Last Spike, at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.[2]
With the locomotives drawn so near, the crowd pressed so closely around Stanford and the other railroad officials that the ceremony became somewhat disorganized, leading to varying accounts of the actual events. Contrary to the myth that the Central Pacific's Chinese laborers were specifically excluded from the festivities, A.J. Russell stereoview #539 shows the"Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR" (8 Chinese laid the last rail, and three of these men, Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, lived long enough to also participate in the 50th anniversary parade. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Chinese participating were honored and cheered by the CPRR officials.)
To drive the final spike, Stanford lifted a silver spike maul and drove the spike into the tie, completing the line. Stanford and Hewes missed the spike, but the single word "done" was nevertheless flashed by telegraph around the country. In the United States, the event has come to be considered one of the first nationwide media events. Immediately afterwards, the golden spike and the laurel tie were removed and replaced with a regular iron spike and normal tie. At exactly 12:47 p.m., the last iron spike was driven, finally completing the line.
After the ceremony, the Golden Spike was donated to the Stanford Museum (now Cantor Arts Center) in 1898. The last laurel tie was destroyed in the fires caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.


Although the Promontory event marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad line, it did not actually mark the completion of a seamless coast-to-coast rail network. The Mossdale Bridge, which was the final section across the San Joaquin River near Lathrop, California, was finally completed in September 1869 connecting Sacramento in California. [3] Passengers were required to cross the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska by boat until the building of the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge in 1872. In the meantime, a coast-to-coast rail link was achieved in August 1870 in Strasburg, Colorado by the completion of the Denver extension of the Kansas Pacific Railway.
In 1904 a new railroad route called the Lucin Cutoff was built by-passing the Promontory location to the south. By going west across the Great Salt Lake from Ogden, Utah to Lucin, Utah, the new railroad line shortened the distance by 43 miles and avoided curves and grades. Main line trains no longer passed over Promontory Summit.
In 1939, following the premiere of the Cecil B. De Mille motion picture Union Pacific in Omaha and Council Bluffs a gold-colored concrete spike 56 feet (17 m) in height was unveiled on 9th Avenue in Council Bluffs on the approximate location of milepost 0.0 of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The Utah state quarter.
In 1942, the old rails over Promontory Summit were salvaged for the war effort; the event was marked by a ceremonial "undriving" of the last iron spike. The original event had been all but forgotten except by local residents, who erected a commemorative marker in 1943. The years after the war saw a revival of interest in the event; the first re-enactment was staged in 1948.
In 1957, Congress established the Golden Spike National Historic Site to preserve the area around Promontory Summit as closely as possible to its appearance in 1869. The site contains working replicas of the locomotives present at the original ceremony, which are drawn up face-to-face each Saturday during the summer for a re-enactment of the event.
For the May 10, 1969 centennial of the driving of the last spike, the High Iron Company ran a steam powered excursion train round trip from New York City to Promontory. The Golden Spike Centennial Limited transported over 100 passengers including, for the last leg into Salt Lake City, actor John Wayne. The Union Pacific Railroad also sent a special display train and the US Army Transportation Corp sent a steam powered 3-car special from Fort Eustis, Virginia.
On May 10, 2006, on the anniversary of the driving of the spike, Utah announced that its state quarter design would be a depiction of the driving of the spike. The Golden Spike design was the conception of Syracuse, Utah Junior High School special education students under the direction of instructor Scott Price. The design was selected as the winner from among several others by Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman, Jr., following a period during which Utah residents voted and commented on their favorite of three finalists.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Comments from Lee R. Christensen:

“Interestingly enough, there were actually two grades built, both parallel and adjacent to each other. Both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific were under contract by the U.S. Government to build, and each were paid by the mile. It wasn't until after the construction crews passed each other (working in opposite directions) that the meeting point was established. The Central Pacific grade is now the famous one, and is the one preserved by the BLM. The Union Pacific grade was abandoned in 1870, less than a year after the Golden Spike was driven, qualifying it as one of the oldest abandoned grades that it still clearly visible”  

Kathy:”   I’ve always thot the above was an interesting comment on  the two construction  crews –  they went past each other  I think for over 100 miles until the government told them to hook up.  lee

Today I think is the yearly celebration of the driving of the Golden Spike.  For years I’ve thought  my great grandfather Charles Parke played a part in the building of the railroad and could be in  the famous photo  taken at the time.  He lived in Willard, Utah and supposedly  worked on the Echo canyon part of the building.  Years ago I wrote Union Pacific and they had no  personnel records covering that period.  Now! Today! I’ve learned the Brigham  Young had a contract with the railroad companies to build the road in Utah and that Mormons  built  all of it thru Weber Canyon.  Could you (I’m hiring you this time) check with the History division and see what records they have>? 

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