A World Transformed: The Transcontinental Railroad and Utah: The Wedding of the Rails, May 10, 1869
The Wedding of the Rails, May 10, 1869
Railroad historian Maury Klein said about the Golden Spike Ceremony, “the wrong people came to the wrong place for the wrong reason.” For example, only a few of the Irish, Mormon, and Chinese laborers who did the majority of the work were present. Because the CPRR bought the UPRR line from Promontory to Ogden, Promontory was only the meeting point until December, when Ogden became the transfer point. And finally, the ceremony was scheduled for May 8th, but was delayed until May 10th because a bridge in Weber Canyon had washed out. Nevertheless, it is hard to underestimate the symbolic importance of this railroad to the United States in 1869. The country had been through a long, bloody civil war, and the ceremony became a symbol of reunification. Socially and culturally, it reoriented the country not as divided by North and South, but as unified East and West. The completion of the transcontinental railroad also restored faith in American exceptionalism—the idea that the United States has a special providence and mission among all the countries of the world. Finally, the ceremony also marked a change in national views of the Intermountain West from a great desert unfit for settlement, to a land of unlimited economic opportunities tamed by the railroad.