The Transcontinental Railroad greatly boosted America's economy and contributed to the westward expansion. Before the railroad, the fastest way to migrate to the West was by wagon, a journey fraught with danger over plains, deserts, mountains and rivers. Many chose the sea route instead, but people often contracted yellow fever and other diseases. The new railroad was much safer and faster and finally linked the East with the West.
- The railroad took 7 years to complete and is a 1,907-mile contiguous line.
- Three competing private companies built the railroad, one starting in the East, the other two in the West, allowing the railroad to meet in the middle.
- The Western Pacific Railroad Company constructed 132 miles between Oakland and Sacramento. The Central Pacific Railroad Company of California covered then next 690 miles up to Promontory Summit and the Union Pacific Company built 1,085 miles of the line from Omaha, Nebraska to the Promontory Summit.
- The line was completed on May 10, 1869 and opened by Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad and governor of California, who ceremonially drove in the last spike with a silver hammer. This spike is now called the “golden spike” and is on display at Stanford University, California.
- Large parts of the railroad were built by Irish workers, Mormons and Chinese immigrants.
- The route was built on a route similar to the road the Pony Express followed, which proved that it was possible travel this route in winter.