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The Central Pacific Railroad was the Californiamarker-to-Utahmarker portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in North America.

Many proposals to build a transcontinental railroad failed because of the disputes over slavery in Washington; with the secession of the South, the modernizers in the Republican party took over Congress and passed the necessary legislation and financing in the form of government railroad bonds which were all eventually repaid with interest. The government and the railroads both shared in the increased value of the land grants, and the government also saved a great deal on the expenses for the transportation of the mails and the military.

It was planned by Theodore Judah, authorized by Congress in 1862 and financed and built through "The Big Four" (who also called themselves "The Associates"), who were Sacramento, Californiamarker businessmen Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. Crocker was in charge of construction; much of the labor were Chinese workers. The first rails were laid in 1863 and the golden spike, connecting it to the Union Pacific Railroad to Promontory, Utahmarker, was hammered on May 10, 1869. Coast-to-coast travel in 8 days now replaced wagon trains or months-long sea voyages.

In 1885 the Central Pacific Railroad was leased by the Southern Pacific Company, though it technically 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 part of the Union Pacific which purchased Southern Pacific in 1996.

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


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 which were issued at the rate of $16,000 per mile of tracked grade completed West of the designated base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. [858] 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 three hundred miles at this rate), and doubled (to $32,000) per mile of completed grade laid between the two mountain ranges. [859] 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"[860] in total amounts up to (but not exceeding) that of the bonds issued by the United States, and that such company issued securities would have priority over the original Government Bonds.[861] (Local and state governments also aided the financing, although the City and County of San Francisco did not do so willingly which materially slowed early construction efforts.) Sec. 3 of the 1862 Act also granted 10 square miles (26 kmĀ²) 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 one fifth of a mile in length by 10 miles in height. [862] These grants were later doubled to 20 square miles 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
the Pacific Railroad clearly eventually benefited the Bay Area, it was originally strongly opposed by the City and County of San Francisco which obstructed its crucial early financing for two years (1863-65). While 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), and on May 19, 1863, this was approved by the electors of the City and County of San Francisco by a vote of 6,329 to 3,116 at a highly controversial Special Election.

The issuance and delivery of the Bonds by the City and Country necessary to finance the investment (which had become known as the "Dutch Flat Swindle" because it was claimed that the CPRR only intended to build a railroad as far as Dutch Flat to connect to the Dutch Flat Wagon Road which they already controlled) was delayed for two years, however, when Mayor Henry P. Coon, and then the County Clerk, Wilhelm Loewy, each subsequently refused to countersign the Bonds until ordered to do so by the Supreme Court of the State of California which granted Writs of Mandamus against Coon in 1864 ("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 Loewy in 1865 ("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.

Museums and archives

CPRR Original Chief Assistant Engineer L.M.
Clement (l) & Chief Engineer T.D.
Judah (r)
replica of the Sacramento, Californiamarker Central Pacific Railroad passenger station is part of the California State Railroad Museummarker, located in the Old Sacramento State Historic Parkmarker. Two of the company's first locomotives, the Gov. Stanford (No. 1), and C. P. Huntington (No. 3), are also both housed at the same museum.

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


  • June 21, 1861: "Central Pacific Rail Road of California" incorporated; name changed to "Central Pacific Railroad of California" October 8, 1864, after the Pacific Railway Act amendment passes that summer.
  • July 1, 1862: President Lincoln signs the Pacific Railway Act, which authorized the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific to build a railroad to the Pacific Oceanmarker.
  • January 8, 1863: Ground breaking ceremonies take place at Sacramento, Californiamarker, at the foot of "K" Street at the waterfront of the Sacramento River.
  • October 26, 1863: First rail laid, at Sacramentomarker.
  • April 26, 1864: Central Pacific opened to Roseville, , where it makes a junction with the California Central Rail Road, operating from Folsom north to Lincoln.
  • June 3, 1864: The first revenue train on the Central Pacific operates between Sacramentomarker and Newcastle, Californiamarker
  • October 8, 1864: Following passage of the amendment to the Pacific Railroad Act, the company's name is changed to "Central Pacific Railroad of California," a new corporation.
  • May 13, 1865: Central Pacific opened to Auburn, Californiamarker.
  • September 1, 1865: Central Pacific opened to Colfax, Californiamarker (formerly known as "Illinoistown.")
  • December 3, 1866: Central Pacific opened to Cisco, California.
  • December 1, 1868: Central Pacific opened to Summit of the Sierra Nevada, .
  • April 28, 1869: Track crews on the Central Pacific lay of track in one day. This is the longest stretch of track that has been built in one day to date.
  • May 10, 1869: The Central Pacific and Union Pacific tracks meet in Promontory, Utahmarker.
  • May 15, 1869: The first transcontinental trains are run over the new line to Sacramentomarker.
  • November 8, 1869: Central Pacific subsidiaries Western Pacific Railroad and San Francisco Bay Railroad complete the final leg of the route, connecting Sacramentomarker to Oaklandmarker.
  • June 23, 1870: Central Pacific is consolidated with the Western Pacific Railroad and San Francisco Bay Railroad Co. to form the "Central Pacific Railroad Co." (of June, 1870).
  • August 22, 1870: Central Pacific Railroad Co. is consolidated with the California & Oregon; San Francisco, Oakland & Alameda; and San Joaquin Valley Railroad; to form the "Central Pacific Railroad Co.", a new corporation.
  • April 30, 1876: Operates the California Pacific Railroad between South Vallejomarker and Sacramento, Calistogamarker and Marysvillemarker until April 1, 1885 (see below).
  • July 16, 1877: Start of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 when railroad workers on strike in Martinsburg, West Virginiamarker, derail and loot a train; United States President Rutherford B. Hayes calls in Federal troops to break the strike.
  • November 18, 1883: A system of one-hour standard time zones for American railroads was first implemented. The zones were named Intercolonial, Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. Within one year, 85% of all cities having populations over 10,000, about 200 cities, were using standard time.
  • April 1, 1885: Central Pacific is leased to Southern Pacific.
  • June 30, 1888: Listed by ICC as a "non-operating" subsidiary of Southern Pacific.
  • July 29, 1899: Central Pacific is reorganized as the "Central Pacific Railway".
  • June 30, 1959: Central Pacific is formally merged into the Southern Pacific.

See also


  • David Haward Bain, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad (2000)
  • Cooper, Bruce C., "Riding the Transcontinental Rails: Overland Travel on the Pacific Railroad 1865-1881" (2005), Polyglot Press, Philadelphia ISBN 1-4115-9993-4
  • Cerinda W. Evans; Collis Potter Huntington Vol. 1 Mariners Museum, 1954
  • Fleisig, Heywood. "The Central Pacific Railroad and the Railroad Land Grant Controversy" Journal of Economic History 1975 35(3): 552-566. ISSN 0022-0507 Fulltext in JSTOR. Questions whether promoters of the Central Pacific Railroad were oversubsidized. Confirms the traditional view that subsidies were not an economic necessity because they "influenced neither the decision to invest in the railroad nor the speed of its construction." Notes that estimates of rate of return for the railroad developers using government funds range from 71% to 200%, while estimates of private rates of return range from 15% to 25%.
  • John Debo Galloway; The First Transcontinental Railroad: Central Pacific, Union Pacific (1950)
  • Kraus, George. "Chinese Laborers and the Construction of the Central Pacific." Utah Historical Quarterly 1969 37(1): 41-57. ISSN 0042-143X. Shows how Chinese railroad workers lived and worked, how they managed the finances associated with their employment, and concludes that Central Pacific officials responsible for employing the Chinese, even those at first opposed to the policy, came to appreciate the cleanliness and reliability of this group of laborers. There are many quotations from accounts by contemporary observers.
  • Lake, Holly. "Construction of the CPRR: Chinese Immigrant Contribution" Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly 1994 94(4): 188-199. ISSN 0160-9602
  • Mercer, Lloyd J. "Rates of Return for Land-grant Railroads: the Central Pacific System" Journal of Economic History 1970 30(3): 602-626. ISSN 0022-0507 Fulltext in JSTOR. Analyzes the impact of land grants, during 1864-90, on rates of return from investment in the Central Pacific Railroad. Results suggest that even without land grants, rates of return were high enough to induce investment. Also, land grants did not pay for the construction of the railroad. Land grants, however, did produce large social returns in western states by accelerating construction of the system.
  • Mercer, Lloyd J. "Land Grants to American Railroads: Social Cost or Social Benefit?" Business History Review 1969 43(2): 134-151. ISSN 0007-6805 Fulltext in Jstor. Attempts by the use of econometrics to determine the values of railroad land grants of the 19th century to the railroads and to society as a whole. The author summarizes and criticizes previous treatments of this subject and then discusses his own findings. Using only the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific systems as the basis for his investigation, the author concludes that the railroad owners received unaided rates of return which substantially exceeded the private rate of return on the average alternative project in the economy during the same period. Thus the projects turned out to be profitable although it was generally expected by contemporary observers that the roads would be privately unprofitable without the land grant aid. The land grants did not have a major effect, increasing the private rate of return only slightly. Nevertheless, it is contended that the policy of subsidizing those railroad systems was beneficial for society since the social rate of return from the project was substantial and exceeded the private rate by a significant margin.
  • Ong, Paul M. "The Central Pacific Railroad and Exploitation of Chinese Labor." Journal of Ethnic Studies 1985 13(2): 119-124. ISSN 0091-3219. Ong tries to resolve the apparent inconsistency in the literature on Asians in early California, with contradictory studies showing evidence both for and against the exploitation of Chinese labor by the Central Pacific Railroad, using monopsony theory as developed by Joan Robinson. Monopsonists are buyers whose share of the market is large enough to affect prices, or whose supply curves are not completely elastic. By setting different wages for whites and Chinese - each having different elasticities of supply - and using Chinese in the menial and dangerous jobs, with whites in the better positions, the two groups were complementary rather than interchangeable. Calculations thus prove higher levels of exploitation of the Chinese than in previous studies.
  • Saxton, Alexander. "The Army of Canton in the High Sierra" Pacific Historical Review 1966 35(2): 141-151. ISSN 0030-8684 on Chinese workers.
  • Tutorow, Norman E. "Stanford's Responses to Competition: Rhetoric Versus Reality." Southern California Quarterly 1970 52(3): 231-247. ISSN 0038-3929 Leland Stanford and the men who ran the Central Pacific Railroad system paid lip-service to the idea of free competition but in practice sought to destroy or weaken competing railroad and shipping lines. Focusing on the years between the completion of the first transcontinental railroad line (1869) and Stanford's death (1893), the author shows how Stanford and the Central Pacific associates repeatedly entered into pooling arrangements to prevent competition, brought out competitors, or forced rivals to agree not to compete with them. He concludes that Stanford and his partners viewed laissez-faire as applicable only to government controls and not to destruction of competition within the system by those involved
  • White, Richard, "Information, Markets, and Corruption: Transcontinental Railroads in the Gilded Age". The Journal of American History 90.1 (2003)
  • Williams, John Hoyt. A Great and Shining Road: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroad (1988)
  • Goodwin, Neil, prod. The Iron Road. Video. Color. 58min. (American Experience series.) Publication: Peace River Films, 1990. Distrib. by PBS Video

  1. Stuart (1908). "Railroad Reorganization: Union Pacific," Harvard Economic Studies, p. 256.
  2. LEO SHEEP CO. V. UNITED STATES, 440 U.S. 668 (1979)

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