May 10 2019
On May 10, 1869, a golden spike was driven into the last link joining the rails of the First Continental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah. Made of 17 carat gold, and driven into a pre-drilled hole in the last ceremonial tie, it bore this inscription: “May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”
And indeed it did. With the joining of the Union Pacific Railroad, stretching from the Missouri River near the Iowa-Nebraska border, and the Central Pacific railroad, stretching from Sacramento, California—East met West. The Unites States became truly united. As the spike was struck, a telegraph was sent around the nation, and bells rang out from coast to coast.
Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of this pivotal moment, and it is only right that we pause to recognize it. For this, Mr./Madam President, was a moment that changed the course of history in Utah, our nation, and ultimately the entire world.
With the driving of the golden spike, the arduous 6-month journey required to cross the country, costing $1000, had become a mere 10-day trip, costing only $150.
Thousands of miles of tracks were laid across the country, allowing people to migrate West and establish new settlements far more quickly and easily.
And it transformed the economy in Utah and across the nation. Goods became efficiently transported across farther distances; sellers found new markets; and buyers on the frontier and in rural areas were able to purchase items previously unavailable to them.
It spurred a boon in communications, commerce, agriculture, construction, and mining.
It started a significant new chapter in our relationship with Asia and the Pacific region; and it served as a model of innovation and prosperity for the rest of the world.
All of this came about, it’s important to note, through the perseverance and efforts of many different people working together.
It required a clear-eyed vision from President Lincoln and the federal government; and a fruitful private and public partnership which allowed the engineers, railroad companies, and local communities the freedom to do their jobs well.
And it would not have been possible without the work of the Chinese, Irish, Mormons, Civil War veterans, Native Americans, and other laborers who toiled to build these railroads.
Most of this is in the history books, as well it ought to be. Most of us have a sense of the enormous achievement that this was, the great impact it had on our nation, and the legacy it has left behind.
But what we often don’t know are the stories of the ordinary men and women behind these achievements. There are hidden heroes that make history; and unseen efforts of people who work to keep that history alive.
Heroes like Theodore and Anna Judah, who worked tirelessly to advocate for the “Central Route” of the Transcontinental Railroad.
While many routes were surveyed as possible paths for the railroad, the Judahs had an often-scoffed-at dream of laying rails through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, from California eastward.
And Anna Judah shared Theodore’s dream of connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad. When Theodore hiked and surveyed the Sierra Nevadas, Anna hiked and worked right alongside him. She sketched the terrain, gathered minerals and fossils, and took copious notes of their travels.
After their time in the Sierra Nevadas, Theodore and Anna fell in love with the idea of the railroad taking the Central Route across the Sierra Nevadas, believing that it would be the perfect path.
So they began traveling back and forth from California, dedicating their efforts to lobbying for their dream in Washington.
Anna was sharp, charming, and tenacious; and undoubtedly Theodore’s biggest booster.
She had the idea to display an exhibit in Washington, DC showcasing her drawings, notes, and collection. Hundreds of senators, congressmen, and lobbyists, visited her display, which helped convince the Eastern legislators to choose the Judahs’ proposal for the Central Route.
Tragically, Theodore contracted yellow fever and died before seeing the railroad completed, and even before it was started in earnest.
But Anna lived to see their dream to fruition; and in fact, the driving of the last spike took place on what would have been their 22nd wedding anniversary. On the date of the ceremony, Anna visited her husband’s grave; and she wrote that there, her husband’s spirit – so long dedicated to the railroad – felt somehow near to her again.