Did you know that the eastern and western parts of the First Transcontinental Railroad were joined together today in 1869? Before this, trains could not travel from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast – there were no railroad tracks connecting the two sides. During the ceremony at Promontory Summit in Utah, two locomotives met face to face on the different parts of the track: Union Pacific No. 119 from the West and “Jupiter” Central Pacific No. 60 from the East. A special spike (a very large nail) made of copper and gold was tapped into place using a silver hammer.
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The ceremony was supposed to happen on May 8th, but was delayed due to bad weather and a labor dispute.
There were actually 4 commemorative spikes created for the ceremony. 3 were driven into the laurel wood tie before the ceremony: a lower-quality golden spike; a silver spike; and a spike made of iron, silver, and gold. The commemorative spikes were driven into a railroad tie of polished California Laurel wood.
After the ceremony, the laurel tie and commemorative spikes were removed so they could not stolen, and a normal railroad tie and spike were put in its place.
Once the railroads were connected, the message “Done” was transmitted to both coasts, which held their own celebrations. As improvements to the transcontinental railroad continued to be made, travel from coast to coast was reduced from six months or more to just one week.
In 1904 a new railroad line was created that bypassed Promontory Summit. It shortened the route by 43 miles. In 1942, the old rails at Promontory Summit were salvaged for the World War II effort.
Golden Spike National Historic Site was created in 1957 to preserve history and the area around Promontory Summit. Working replicas of the two locomotives present at the Golden Spike ceremony were built and are brought out on the tracks as a part of a re-enactment of the Golden Spike ceremony.