Like It in the World : The Men Who Built the Transcontinental
431 pages (August
Schuster; ISBN: 0684846098
Abraham Lincoln, who had worked as a riverboat pilot
before turning to politics, knew a thing or two about the
problems of transporting goods and people from place to place.
He was also convinced that the United States would flourish
only if its far-flung regions were linked, replacing sectional
loyalties with an overarching sense of national destiny.
Building a transcontinental railroad, writes the prolific
Ambrose, was second only to the abolition of slavery on
Lincoln's presidential agenda. Through an ambitious program
of land grants and low-interest government loans, he encouraged
entrepreneurs such as California's "Big Four"--Charles Crocker,
Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford--to take
on the task of stringing steel rails from ocean to ocean.
The real work of doing so, of course, was on the shoulders
of immigrant men and women, mostly Chinese and Irish. These
often-overlooked actors and what a contemporary called their
"dreadful vitality" figure prominently in Ambrose's narrative,
alongside the great financiers and surveyors who populate
the standard textbooks.
In the end, Ambrose writes, Lincoln's dream transformed
the nation, marking "the first great triumph over time and
space" and inaugurating what has come to be known as the American
Haward Bain's Empire
Express, which covers the same ground, is more substantial,
but Ambrose provides an eminently readable study of a complex
episode in American history. --Gregory McNamee
September 17, 2000
Stephen E. Ambrose tells the story of the men who
linked the East and West coasts.
By HENRY KISOR
For sheer engineering gee-whiz, the American transcontinental
railroad of the 19th century ranks with the Great Wall of China,
the Pyramids of Giza and the Panama Canal. Today's traveler cannot
drink in a single sweeping view of the sinuous line of steel stretching
from Omaha to Sacramento, but in its entirety it is still a marvel
for the ages.
Its importance in American history cannot be overstated. The 2,000-mile
line was the economic umbilical cord that finally linked the mother
states of the East with the fledgling California on the West, beginning
the end of the frontier struggle against mountains, deserts and
rivers, and threatening American Indian culture as well as native
species like the bison and gray wolf. The political and cultural
impact of the transcontinental railroad is felt to this day; belief
in the expensive antimissile dream Star Wars had its roots in the
nation's boundless optimism, born with the Pacific railroad, that
with money and determination it could build anything to solve any
The epic story of the railroad's construction between 1863 and
1869 has been told time and again, most recently in David Haward
Bain's monumental ''Empire Express'' (1999). Now Stephen E. Ambrose
offers a richly readable new work, ''Nothing Like It in the World.''
On its smaller, more accessible scale, Ambrose's book compares well
with Bain's, although Ambrose of course cannot match Bain for argument-settling
detail, especially about financial matters.
As he did in his World War II oral histories and in ''Undaunted
Courage,'' his chronicle of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Ambrose
focuses on the lives of ordinary people rather than on those of
movers and shakers. But he does not slight the powerful pirates
who created the Crédit Mobilier for the Union Pacific Railroad
and the Contract and Finance Company for the Central Pacific Railroad
-- granting lucrative construction contracts to themselves while
nearly bankrupting the railroads they owned.
Ambrose ably retells the familiar stories of the railroad visionaries
Theodore Judah in the West and Grenville Dodge in the East, and
of the Daddy Warbuckses who commanded the project from both ends.
They were the Big Four of the eastward-bound Central Pacific in
California: Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker
and Mark Hopkins. They were also Thomas Durant, Oakes Ames and Oliver
Ames of the Union Pacific, building westward from Omaha. Abraham
Lincoln is present, too, as a farsighted railroad lawyer before
the Civil War, and Brigham Young, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh
Sherman also make appearances. [read
Practical Plan for Building the Pacific Railroad - presented
by the Museum of the City of San Francisco.
- Central Pacific
Railroad - The Central Pacific Railroad won the right to build
the western segment of the transcontinental railroad.
- Central Pacific Railroad Photographic
History Museum - stereoviews, engravings, maps, and documents
illustrating the history of the first transcontinental railroad.
- the town of Corinne reigned as "The Gentile Capital of Utah,"
as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads approached
their historic meeting place at Promontory Summit.
- Driving the
Last Spike - from the Museum of the City of San Francisco
including information on the Central Pacific Railroad's "Big Four."
Wyoming - Historical Information - brief history of one of
the towns that grew out of Union Pacific camp.
Spike National Historic Site - on May 10th 1869 from Promontory
Summit northwest of Ogden, Utah, a single telegraphed word, "done,"
signaled to the nation the completion of the first transcontinental
of the First Locomotives in America - from original documents
and the testimony of the living witnesses. Written by William
Road, The - historical backround on the railroad construction
and information on the film from the PBS series, The American
- James J Hill
and the Building of His Railroad Empire - unlike other railroad
builders such as Cornelius Vanderbilt who built their railroads
around a population, Hill built a population around his railroad.
Railroad Surveys - topographical engineers surveyed the American
West in preparation for the Transcontinental Railroad.
Railway Act (1862) - about the act to aid in the construction
of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the
Rails and Iron Horses - an article by Carl Barna, Richard
Brook and Elizabeth Reiben with artwork by Shelly Fischman.
Railroad of the Web
- Union Pacific
Railroad - a Brief History - from the Union Pacific Corporation's