The Transcontinental Railroad and Its Golden Spike…

Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, May 10, 1869
Transcontinental Railroad Stamp

The word “transcontinental” means “from one side of a continent to the other side.” The world’s first transcontinental railroad was built in the United States between 1863 and 1869. It connected the existing eastern U.S. rail system with the Pacific coast.

Before railroads, a trip across North America — which had to made on a horse, in a wagon, in a stagecoach, or on foot — took several months. Horse-drawn travel was slow, dangerous, expensive, and unpredictable. But after the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed, the trip took much less time, cost much less money, and was much safer.

The Transcontinental Railroad line was begun when Abraham Lincoln was president, but it wasn’t completed until four years after his death. To complete the track, builders coming from the west met up with builders coming from the east at a place called Promontory Summit. To finish the job, California’s governor, a man named Leyland Stanford, tapped in the last railroad spike, which was partially made of gold (It was about 73% gold and 27% copper). Known as “the Golden Spike,” it is now on display at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Bright Ideas

Quotes About the Transcontinental Railroad

“The railroad must be built.”
President Abraham Lincoln Speaking About the Transcontinental Railroad

“About 12 o’clock the work of driving the last spike commenced, amid the deafening shouts of the multitude. In less than two minutes the great continental highway from ocean to ocean was an accomplished fact.”
The Highland Weekly News, May 20, 1869

Nifty Fifty

About Utah

 Utah Commemorative QuarterIt’s a Fact: Promontory Summit, Utah is the spot where the First Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed on May 10, 1869. You can still visit Promontory Summit at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

It’s a Fact: The capital of Utah is Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is also the largest city in Utah. The abbreviation for Utah is UT.

It’s a Fact: The Great Salt Lake, which is the largest salt-water lake in the Western Hemisphere, is located in Utah.

It’s a Fact: The Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City was completed in 1867. It was built to house meetings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints.

It’s a Fact: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has 360 members, is one of the best-known choirs in the world.

More Fun Facts
Fun Fact: The First Transcontinental Railroad has also been known as the Pacific Railroad, and the Overland Route.

Fun Fact: The First Transcontinental Railroad replaced wagon trains and stagecoach lines that transported people and goods from the East to the West.

Fun Fact: The First Transcontinental Railroad also replaced a long and dangerous sea journey from the east coast to the west coast. In those days, ships had to sail south, all the way around South America’s southern tip, in order to get from one coast to the other.

Fun Fact: With help from the government, three private companies built the First Transcontinental Railroad. Those companies were: the Western Pacific Railroad Company, the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, and the Union Pacific Railroad Company.

Fun Fact: Most of the workers for the Central Pacific Railroad Company were Chinese immigrants; most of the workers for the Union Pacific Railroad were Irish.

Fun Fact: The Golden Spike wasn’t pounded into the railroad tie. It was dropped into a pre-drilled hole and then gently tapped in by Leyland Stanford. Since the spike was made with a soft medal (gold), Stanford was careful not to damage it.

Fun Fact: The Mystery Ryders’ Adventure #1, The Mystery of the Disappearing Dogs, takes place at Stanford University, where the Golden Spike is on display.

Questions and Answers
Just for fun,
see if you can answer these questions.

Who was president when the First Transcontinental Railroad was started? Was it George Washington, Andrew Jackson, or Abraham Lincoln?
Abraham Lincoln.

Where did Leland Stanford tap in the Golden Spike? Was it at Promontory Summit, at Salt Lake City, or at The Great Salt Lake?

Promontory Summit.

What's the capital of Utah? Is It Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Salt Lake City?

Salt Lake City.

What year was the First Transcontinental Railroad completed? Was It 1769, 1869, or 1969?

Write Your Own Story

If you have time, you can write a story of your own.

Here are a couple of story ideas to help you get started.

Story Idea #1: Write a story about the ways that the Transcontinental Railroad changed America.


What do you think it would be like to take a train ride across America today? If you had a choice, would you rather travel by train or by plane?

To help you write a great story, here are some timely tips and helpful hints.

Today's Ryder Riddle
Here's a Riddle for You:
How did the locomotive get so good at its job?

The Mystery Ryders

For fun-to-read books about a girl detective who homeschools on a train... check out The Mystery Ryders, a series from the creators of the Homeschool Express.

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