multiplied and spanning the continent, are essential domestic institutions
-- more powerful and more permanent than law, or popular consent, or political
constitutions... They thoroughly complete the grand system... which fraternizes
us into one people.
By the spring of 1869, the competition between the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific was converging on northern Utah. Rival armies of railroad men vied to cover the most ground -- and earn the most money for their employers -- before the two lines finally met. They tried to outdo one another, first laying five miles of track in a single day -- then six, then seven, and then ten miles, a pace of railroad-building such as the world had never seen.
No fixed rendezvous-point had ever been established. Grading crews for the two companies, working far ahead of the track layers, passed each other in opposite directions and pushed on for hundreds of miles -- sometimes working so close to one another that explosions set off by one work gang spattered its rivals with dirt.
Finally, the government intervened and picked Promontory Summit, 56 miles west of Ogden, as the place where the two lines would meet. The race across the West was coming to a close at last.
On May 10th, 1869, everything was ready. A telegrapher stood by to signal to both coasts and all points in between the driving of the final spike.
TO EVERYBODY, KEEP QUIET. WHEN THE LAST SPIKE IS DRIVEN AT PROMONTORY POINT, WE WILL SAY "DONE!" DON'T BREAK THE CIRCUIT, BUT WATCH FOR THE SIGNALS OF THE BLOWS OF THE HAMMER.
WE UNDERSTAND; ALL ARE READY IN THE EAST.
Four spikes -- two gold, one silver and the fourth a blend of gold, silver and iron -- were to be tapped gently into position with a silver maul to mark the occasion and then a final spike -- an ordinary one but wired to the telegrapher's key -- was to be hammered into the ground.
ALMOST READY. HATS OFF PRAYER IS BEING OFFERED. O Father, God of our fathers, we desire to acknowledge Thy handiwork in this great work, and ask Thy blessing upon us here assembled, and that mighty enterprise may be unto us as the Atlantic of Thy strength, and the Pacific of Thy love, through Jesus the Redeemer, Amen. THE SPIKE WILL SOON BE DRIVEN. WE HAVE GOT DONE PRAYING; THE SPIKE IS ABOUT TO BE PRESENTED.
The final spike was slid into place. Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific was to have the honor of driving it home.
THE SIGNAL WILL BE THREE DOTS FOR THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE BLOWS.
Stanford swung the hammer high above his head, brought it down -- and missed. The telegrapher closed the circuit, anyway.
In Washington, a great cheer went up from the big crowd in front of the telegraph office and an illuminated ball dropped from the dome of the Capitol. At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell was rung -- gingerly, so that its crack would not worsen. And in San Francisco a huge banner was unfurled that proclaimed: "California Annexes the United States."
From the time of Columbus, explorers had searched in vain for a passage that would connect the Atlantic with the Pacific. The centuries-old dream had finally come true. No such passage existed, so the Americans had built one.
the rails were joined at Promontory, I think you can say that we began
for the first time, truly, to think of ourselves as a continental nation.
It was kind of a reach of the national consciousness into a place that
had once only been occupied by dreams, and myths and imagination, and
here was the great technological marvel of its time, crashing through
those mythic barriers and going into a very real place."
moment, at Promontory Point is a moment of tremendous significance, because
on either side of that moment, were vastly different worlds, radically
different worlds. It foretold the whole story of technology. The coming
of the machine. And what could be more symbolic of that new age than the
completion of the railroad and the driving of the golden spike. Nothing
would ever be the same in the West."
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