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Pacific Railway Act
Mar 17, 2006, 11:21pm

Library of Congress
Completion of the Pacific Railroad, May 10, 1869

The question of "internal improvements" was constantly before Congress in the 19th century: Should Congress assist in improving the countrs transportation system? One such improvement was the dream of constructing a railroad that would cross the entire country. In the 1850s Congress commissioned several topographical surveys across the West to determine the best route for a railroad, but private corporations were reluctant to undertake the task without Federal assistance. In 1862 Congress passed the Pacific Railway Acts which designated the 32nd parallel as the initial transcontinental route and gave huge grants of lands for rights-of-way.

The legislation authorized two railroad companies, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, to construct the lines. Beginning in 1863, the Union Pacific, employing more than 8,000 Irish, German, and Italian immigrants, built west from Omaha, Nebraska; the Central Pacific, whose workforce included over 10,000 Chinese laborers, built eastward from Sacramento, California. Each company faced unprecedented construction problemmountains, severe weather, and the hostility of Native Americans. On May 10, 1869, in a ceremony at Promontory, Utah, the last rails were laid and the last spike driven. Congress eventually authorized 4 transcontinental railroads and granted 174 million acres of public lands for rights-of-way.

Source: NARA

Read the complete transcript of the Pacific Railway Act

Citation: Pacific Railway Act, July 1, 1862; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-1996; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives

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