From this prosaic early environment the two hardware merchants became financial geniuses; the weigher of sugar and tea developed into a master organizer and political leader; while the man who had stood behind a ribbon counter rose to command men in a construction undertaking that startled the engineering world.
It was vital that California and the Pacific Coast be bound to the Union, consequently the Pacific Railroad became a military necessity.The Pacific Railroad Act was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1862, and six months later, on January 8, 1863, the first shovelful of earth was turned by Central Pacific in constructing the pioneer line.Construction began at Sacramento in 1863 following authorization by Congress in 1862.The original unit of the transportation system that today comprises more than 15,000 miles of rail lines in this country and Mexico, was built from Sacramento 690 miles over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and across Nevada to meet the Union Pacific at Promontory, Utah, where the Last Spike was driven on May 10, 1869.The benefits of a transcontinental railroad, it seems, should have been obvious to all thinking men, but the idea took root only gradually and met with strenuous opposition.
The first plan to receive consideration of Congress was one in 1836.
Its completion gave birth to a new era, and the expansion of its western lines is evidenced today in the far-flung properties of the Southern Pacific Company.
Pioneer of transcontinental railroads, Southern Pacific had its origin in the Central Pacific Rail Road Company of California, incorporated June 28, 1861, to build the western portion of the Pacific Railroad.
Others followed, some of them having a short route to the rich Orient as the primary objective rather than being aimed at the development of the West.
Discovery of gold in 1848 focused world attention on California and the Pacific Coast region.
After passage of the bill, Huntington wired his associates: "We have drawn the elephant, now let us see if we can harness him." In granting this aid to the Central Pacific and Union Pacific, Congress followed a federal policy already established, and one extended to several other railroads built before and after the Pacific Railroad was authorized.