Central Pacific Railroad

Central Pacific Railroad
Locale Sacramento, CA-Ogden, Utah
Dates of operation June 28, 1861April 1, 1885, but continued as an SP leased line until 30 June 1959
Successor Southern Pacific
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) → 1
Headquarters Sacramento, CA; San Francisco, CA
Route of the first American transcontinental: The Central Pacific (red) in the west and the Union Pacific (blue) met in Utah in 1869.
The Gov. Stanford locomotive
The Truckee River at Verdi, Nevada. When the Central Pacific Railroad reached its site in 1868, Charles Crocker pulled a slip of paper from a hat and read the name of Giuseppe Verdi ; so, the town was named after the Italian opera composer.[1]
Trestle, Central Pacific Railroad, c.1869. Photo: Carleton Watkins
The Last Spike, by Thomas Hill, (1881)

The Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, US, that built eastwards from the West Coast in the 1860s, to complete the western part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental railroad failed because of the energy consumed by political disputes over slavery. With the secession of the South, the modernizers in the Republican Party controlled the US Congress. They passed legislation authorizing the railroad, with financing in the form of government railroad bonds. These were all eventually repaid with interest.[2] The government and the railroads both shared in the increased value of the land grants, which the railroads developed.[3] The construction of the railroad also secured for the government the economical "safe and speedy transportation of the mails, troops, munitions of war, and public stores."[4]

Authorization and construction

Planned by Theodore Judah, the Central Pacific Railroad was authorized by Congress in 1862. It was financed and built through "The Big Four" (who called themselves "The Associates"): Sacramento, California businessmen Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. Crocker was in charge of construction. Construction crews comprised 12,000 Chinese emigrant workers by 1868, when they constituted eighty percent of the entire work force.[5][6] They laid the first rails in 1863. The "Golden spike", connecting the western railroad to the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory, Utah, was hammered on May 10, 1869.[7] Coast-to-coast train travel in eight days became possible, replacing months-long sea voyages and lengthy, hazardous travel by wagon trains.

In 1885 the Central Pacific Railroad was leased by the Southern Pacific Company. Technically the CPRR remained a corporate entity until 1959, when it was formally merged into Southern Pacific. (It was reorganized in 1899 as the Central Pacific "Railway".) The original right-of-way is now controlled by the Union Pacific, which purchased Southern Pacific in 1996.

The Union Pacific-Central Pacific (Southern Pacific) mainline followed the historic Overland Route from Omaha, Nebraska to San Francisco Bay.

Chinese labor was the most vital source for constructing the railroad. Fifty Chinese laborers were hired by the Central Pacific Railroad in February 1865, and soon more and more Chinese men were hired. Working conditions were harsh, and Chinese men were compensated less than their white counterparts. Chinese men were paid thirty-one dollars each month, and while white workers were paid the same they were also given room and board. [8]


Advertisement for CPRR First Mortgage Bonds (1867)

Construction of the road was financed primarily by 30-year, 6% U.S. government bonds authorized by Sec. 5 of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. They were issued at the rate of $16,000 per mile of tracked grade completed west of the designated base of the Sierra Nevada range near Roseville, CA where California state geologist Josiah Whitney had determined were the geologic start of the Sierras' foothills.[9] Sec. 11 of the Act also provided that the issuance of bonds "shall be treble the number per mile" (to $48,000) for tracked grade completed over and within the two mountain ranges (but limited to a total of 300 miles (480 km) at this rate), and "doubled" (to $32,000) per mile of completed grade laid between the two mountain ranges.[10] The U.S. Government Bonds, which constituted a lien upon the railroads and all their fixtures, were repaid in full (and with interest) by the company as and when they became due.

Sec. 10 of the 1864 amending Pacific Railroad Act (13 Statutes at Large, 356) additionally authorized the company to issue its own "First Mortgage Bonds"[11] in total amounts up to (but not exceeding) that of the bonds issued by the United States. Such company-issued securities had priority over the original Government Bonds.[12] (Local and state governments also aided the financing, although the City and County of San Francisco did not do so willingly. This materially slowed early construction efforts.) Sec. 3 of the 1862 Act granted the railroads 10 square miles (26 km2) of public land for every mile laid, except where railroads ran through cities and crossed rivers. This grant was apportioned in 5 sections on alternating sides of the railroad, with each section measuring 0.2 miles (320 m) by 10 miles (16 km).[13] These grants were later doubled to 20 square miles (52 km2) per mile of grade by the 1864 Act.

An 1865 San Francisco Pacific Railroad Bond approved in 1863 but delayed for two years by the opposition of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Although the Pacific Railroad eventually benefited the Bay Area, the City and County of San Francisco obstructed financing it during the early years of 1863-1865. When Stanford was Governor of California, the Legislature passed on April 22, 1863, "An Act to Authorize the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco to take and subscribe One Million Dollars to the Capital Stock of the Western Pacific Rail Road Company and the Central Pacific Rail Road Company of California and to provide for the payment of the same and other matters relating thereto" (which was later amended by Section Five of the "Compromise Act" of April 4, 1864). On May 19, 1863, the electors of the City and County of San Francisco passed this bond by a vote of 6,329 to 3,116, in a highly controversial Special Election.

The City and County's financing of the investment through the issuance and delivery of Bonds was delayed for two years, when Mayor Henry P. Coon, and the County Clerk, Wilhelm Loewy, each refused to countersign the Bonds. It took legal actions to force them to do so: in 1864 the Supreme Court of the State of California ordered them under Writs of Mandamus (The People of the State of California ex rel the Central Pacific Railroad Company vs. Henry P. Coon, Mayor; Henry M. Hale, Auditor; and Joseph S. Paxson, Treasurer, of the City and County of San Francisco. 25 Cal. 635) and in 1865, a legal judgment against Loewy (The People ex rel The Central Pacific Railroad Company of California vs. The Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco, and Wilhelm Lowey, Clerk 27 Cal. 655) directing that the Bonds be countersigned and delivered. In 1863 the legislature's forcing of City and County action became known as the "Dutch Flat Swindle". Critics claimed the CPRR intended to build a railroad only as far as Dutch Flat, to connect to the Dutch Flat Wagon Road which they already controlled.

Museums and archives

CPRR Original Chief Assistant Engineer L.M. Clement[14] (l) & Chief Engineer T.D. Judah (r)

A replica of the Sacramento, California Central Pacific Railroad passenger station is part of the California State Railroad Museum, located in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

Nearly all the company's early correspondence is preserved at Syracuse University, as part of the Collis Huntington Papers collection. It has been released on microfilm (133 reels). The following libraries have the microfilm: University of Arizona at Tucson; and Virginia Commonwealth University at Richmond. Additional collections of manuscript letters are held at Stanford University and the Mariners' Museum at Newport News, Virginia. Alfred A. Hart was the official photographer of the CPRR construction.


CPRR#113 FALCON, a Danforth 4-4-0, at Argenta, Nevada, March 1, 1869 (Photo: J.B. Silvis)

The Central Pacific's first three locomotives were of the then common 4-4-0 type, although with the American Civil War raging in the east, they had difficulty acquiring engines from eastern builders, who at times only had smaller 4-2-4 or 4-2-2 types available. Until the completion of the Transcontinental rail link and the railroad's opening of its own shops, all locomotives had to be purchased by builders in the northeastern U.S. The engines had to be dismantled, loaded on a ship, which would embark on a four-month journey that went around South America's Cape Horn until arriving in Sacramento where the locomotives would be unloaded, re-assembled, and placed in service.

Locomotives at the time came from many manufacturers, such as Cooke, Schenectady, Mason, Rogers, Danforth, Norris, Booth, and McKay & Aldus, among others. Interestingly, the railroad had been on rather unfriendly terms with the Baldwin Locomotive Works, one of the more well-known firms. It is not clear as to the cause of this dispute, though some attribute it to the builder insisting on cash payment (though this has yet to be verified). Consequently, the railroad refused to buy engines from Baldwin, and three former Western Pacific Railroad (which the CP had absorbed in 1870) engines were the only Baldwin engines owned by the Central Pacific. The Central Pacific's dispute with Baldwin remained unresolved until well after the road had been acquired by the Southern Pacific.

In the 1870s, the road opened up its own locomotive construction facilities in Sacramento. Central Pacific's 173 was rebuilt by these shops and served as the basis for CP's engine construction. The locomotives built before the 1870s were given names as well as numbers. By the 1870s, it was decided to eliminate the names and as each engine was sent to the shops for service, their names would be removed. However, one engine that was built in the 1880s did receive a name, the El Gobernador. Construction of the rails was often dangerous work. Towards the end of construction, almost all workers were Chinese immigrants . The ethnicity of workers depended largely on the "gang" of workers/ specific area on the rails they were working.

Preserved locomotives

The following CP engines have been preserved:



CPRR logo gilded "Staff" uniform button




1865 CPRR journal cover
End of the track near Humboldt River Canyon, Nevada, 1868
Summit station at Sierra Navada




Summit Tunnel, West Portal (Composite image with the tracks removed in 1993 digitally restored)












See also


  1. "A Brief History of Verdi". Verdihistory.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  2. Daggett, Stuart (1908). "Union Pacific". Railroad Reorganization (PDF). 4. Harvard University Press. p. 256. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  3. Leo Sheep Co. v. United States, 440 U.S. 668 (1979).
  4. CPRR.org (2009-09-24). "Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, §2". Cprr.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  5. Workers of the Central Pacific Railroad, PBS: The American Experience.
  6. George Kraus, "Chinese Laborers and the Construction of the Central Pacific," Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 1969), pp. 41-57.
  7. "Ceremony at "Wedding of the Rails," May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah". World Digital Library. 1869-05-10. Retrieved 2013-07-20.
  8. Takaki, Ronald (1989). A History of Asian Americans: Strangers From A Different Shore (Second ed.). New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. p. 84-86. ISBN 978-0-316-83130-7.
  9. CPRR.org (2009-09-24). "Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 §5". Cprr.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  10. CPRR.org (2009-09-24). "Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 §11". Cprr.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  11. CPRR.org. "FIRST MORTGAGE BONDS OF THE CENTRAL PACIFIC RAILROAD, Business Prospects and Operations of the Company, 1867". Cprr.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  12. CPRR.org (2009-09-24). "Pacific Railroad Act of 1864 §10". Cprr.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  13. CPRR.org (2009-09-24). "Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 §3". Cprr.org. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  14. http://cprr.org/Museum/Lewis_Metzler_Clement.html
  15. By-Laws of the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, Incorporated: June 28, 1861 "THE INDUSTRIAL AND FINANCIAL RESOURCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, as developed by the official returns of the Northern and Southern States and Territories, with an APPENDIX containing a detailed description of Federal, State, and City securities, railroad and canal bonds and shares, bank shares, etc. from statements nearest Jan. 1, 1863, and the CHARTERS OF THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROADS, the GENERAL RAILROAD LAW OF CALIFORNIA, and the BY-LAWS OF THE CENTRAL PACIFIC RAILROAD CO. OF CALIFORNIA." New York: SAMUEL HALLETT, Banker and Railroad Negotiator. 1864
  16. "An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri river to the Pacific ocean, and to secure to the government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes 12 Stat. 489, July 1, 1862
  17. Ambrose, Stephen E. (2000). Nothing Like It in the World. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 106. ISBN 0-7432-0317-8.
  18. Cooper, Bruce C. CPRR Summit Tunnel (#6), Tunnels #7 & #8, Snowsheds, "Chinese" Walls, Donner Trail, and Dutch Flat Donner - Lake Wagon Road at Donner Pass CPRR.org.
  19. "Tinkham Chapter XVIII". Usgennet.org. Retrieved 2012-05-15.
  20. "Happy Birthday". Oakdalehistory.net. 2002-10-09. Retrieved 2012-05-15.

Further reading

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