Account of the "Golden Spike" Ceremony, Promontory Point, UT on May 10, 1869

This account of the "Golden Spike" ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869, as printed in the May 11th edition of the Salt Lake Telegram, describes the festivities involved and lists some of the important attendees. Following the article, the compiler offers a one-sided picture of the situation regarding pay for the Union Pacific's construction crews and details Samuel Reed's actions after the ceremony.

The following is the account of the ceremony of the laying of the last rail taken from the Salt Lake Telegram of May 11th, 1869.


The long looked for day has arrived. The inhabitants of the Atlantic seaboard and the dwellers on the Pacific slopes are no longer separated as distinct peoples, they are henceforth members of the same great family, united by great principles and general interests.

At noon yesterday the great event was achieved, and the celebration of the occasion was unmarred by the slightest accident or circumstance to cause it to be remembered by any with either sorrow or pain. The weather was propitious and the best of order prevailed.


There was nothing in the design of either the Union or the Central Company to give to Promontory Summit the world wide notoriety that it has today, but accident or Providence, it mattereth little for our purpose now. Looking at it with certain predilections and with the ended confidence that everything is "all for the best," we are satisfied that the great struggle had a fitting termination and fitting place.

Early in the morning, the engines and trains of each company faced each other in silence, like rival armies on the morrow of a battle, each hoisting the flag of truce and prepared to smoke the pipe of peace. Those who had expected trouble were woefully disappointed. We heard not an angry word nor saw an eye that betoken displeasure. From the least to the greatest the air of each was the contest is over.

The Meeting.

In situation, the last rail was laid 1084.5 miles west of Omaha and 690 miles east of Sacramento. When all was ready the multitude was called to order by General J. S. Casement, and the Program of the ceremonies was read by Edgar Mills, Esq., a banker of Sacramento.

The Rev. Dr. Todd, of Pittsfield Mass., offered an appropriate prayer.

Dr. Harkness, of Sacramento, on presenting to Governor Stanford a spike of pure gold, delivered the following speech: "Gentlemen of the Pacific Railroad: The last rail needed to complete the greatest railroad enterprise of the world is about to be laid. The last spike needed to unite the Atlantic and Pacific by a new line of travel and commerce is about to be driven to its place. To perform these arts, the east and the west have come together. Never, since history commenced her record of human events, has she been called upon to note the completion of a work so magnificent in conception, so marvelous in execution. California, within whose borders and by whose citizens the Pacific Railroad was inaugurated, desires to express her appreciation of the importance, to her and her sister states, of the great enterprise which by your joint action is about to be consummated. From her mines of gold she has forged a spike, from her laurel woods she has hewn a tie, and by the hands of her citizens she offers them to become a part of the great highway which is about to unite her in closer fellowship with her sisters of the Atlantic. From her bosom was taken the first soil, let hers be the last tie and the last spike. With them accept the hopes and wishes of her people that the success of your enterprise may not stop short of its brightest promise."

Hon. F. A. Trittle, of Nevada, in presenting Doctor Durant with a spike of silver said: "To the iron of the east and the gold of the west, Nevada adds her link of silver to span the continent and wed the ocean."

Governor Stanford, of Arizona, in presenting another spike said: "Ribbed with iron, clad in silver and crowned with gold, Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded the continent and dictated the pathway to commerce."

Governor Stanford's Speech.

Gentlemen—The Pacific Railroad Companies accept, with pride and satisfaction, these gold and silver tokens of your appreciation of the importance of our enterprise to the material interests of the sections which you represent on this occasion, and to the material interests of our whole country, east and west, north and south. These gifts shall receive a fitting place in the superstructure of our road, and before laying the tie and driving the spikes, in completion of the Pacific Railway, allow me to express the hope that the great importance which you are pleased to attach to our undertaking, may be, in all respects, the speed forerunner of increased facilities.

The Pacific Railway will as soon as commerce shall begin fully to realize its advantages, demonstrate the necessity of rich improvements in railroading as to render practicable the transportation of freights at much less rates than are possible under any system which has been thus far anywhere adopted.

The day is not far distant when three tracks will be found necessary to accommodate the commerce and travel which will seek a transit across this continent. Freight will then move only one way on each track, and at rates of speed that will answer the demands of cheapness and time. Cars and engines will be light or heavy, according to the speed required and the weight to he transported.

In conclusion, I will add that we hope to do ultimately what is now impossible on long lines, transport coarse, heavy and cheap products for all distances, at living rates to the trade.

Now gentlemen, with your assistance we will proceed to lay the last tie, the last rail and drive the last spike.

General G. M. Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad then spoke: The Great Benton proposed that some day a granite statue of Columbus would be erected on the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains pointing westward, denoting this as the great route across the continent. You have made that prophecy today a fact. This is the way to India.

Mr. Coe, of the Union Pacific Express Company, made a facetious speech in presenting Governor Stanford with a silver hammer, with which to drive the spikes.

S. B. Reed, superintendent of construction for the Union Pacific and J. H. Strawbridge, Esq., superintendent of construction for the Central Pacific placed the last tie in position, on which the rails from the east and west met. This tie was 8 feet long, 8 inches in the face and 6 inches thick, of California Laurel, finely French polished, bearing a silver escutcheon with the inscription—

'The last ties on the completion of the Pacific Railroad, May 10th, 1869.' The names of the officers of the C.P. company and the presenter of the tie, were also engraved on the same plate.

Dr. Durant took his position by the north rail and Gov. Stanford stood by the south, and when the signal was given both gentlemen struck the spikes. By arrangement with W. H. Hibbard Esq., superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company, a wire was attached to the gold spike so that when it was struck by Gov. Stanford, that instant the electric spark communicated with the cities east and west, and announced that the work was done. The cheering throughout the ceremonies showed the interest experienced by the spectators, but on the completion of the work there was the wildest enthusiasm and cheering. Cheers were proposed by the Union representatives for the Central Pacific Company, the Central Pacific representatives proposed the same for the Union. Doctor Durant and Gov. Stanford struck hands and greeted each other with the warmest cordiality. The Doctor, in the warmth of his soul in greeting the Governor, shouted, "There is henceforth but one Pacific Railroad." Gov. Stanford was equally enthusiastic.

Cheers were shouted for the President of the United States, the Engineers and Contractors and Mr. Dillon made a happy hit in proposing cheers for the laborers who did the work. The excitement was intense. Mr. Mills read the following dispatches:

Promontory Summit, May 10, 1869, 12 Noon

To His Excellency, Gen'l. U. S. Grant, President of the United States, Washington D. C.


We have the honor to report the last rail is laid, the last spike is driven—The Pacific Railroad is finished.

Leland Stanford, President C.P.R.R. Co., of Cal.
T. C. Durant, Vice-President U.P.R.R.

To the Associated Press: Promontory Summit, May 10th, 1869.

The last rail is laid, the last spike driven, the Pacific Railroad is completed. Point of Junction 1086 miles west of the Missouri River and 690 miles east of Sacramento.

Leland Stanford, President C.P.R.R.
T. C. Durant, Vice-President U.P.R.R.

During the ceremony, the news had traveled to New York and before the audience had dispersed the following dispatch from leading Californians in the east was received:

The Presidents of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, at the junction.

To you and your associates we send our hearty greetings upon the great feat this day achieved in the junction of your two roads and we bid you God speed in your best endeavors for the entire success of the trans Atlantic highway between the Atlantic and Pacific for the new world and the old.

Stephen J. Field; Eugene Casserly, James W. Nye, Wm. W. Stewart, D. O. Mills, Eugene Kelly & Co., Lees & Walker, J. & W. Seligman & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Louis McLane, Chas. McLane, Wm. F. Coleman, John Rensley.

In addition to the names of the gentlemen mentioned, there were present a large number of influential citizens of both the eastern and western state—Judge Sanderon, of the Supreme Court of California, Dr. Stillman, San Francisco, Dr. Harkness, Sacramento, J. W. Haynes and Wm. Sherman, Esqs. of Nevada, Government Commissioners; Chas. Marsh, Esq., Director of the C.P.R.R., General Houghton, of Sacramento, and Gov. Stanford, of Arizona, E. Blackburn Ryan, Esq.

Among the other gentlemen connected with the U.P. were Hon. John Duff, director; Col. Silas Seymour, Consulting Engineer; H. M. Hoxie, General Superintendent, T. E. Sickles, Engineer; Contractors—General J. S. Casement, Dan Casement, Col. Hopper, Major L. S. Bent, Capt. J. W. Davis, Deputation from Salt Lake—Hon. Wm. Jennings, Vice Pres't. Utah Central Ry., Bishop Sharp, Col. F. H. Head, Supt. Indian Affairs, Col. Feramorz Little. From Cache Valley—Pres't. E. T. Benson. From Ogden—Pres't. F. D. Richards, Bishop West, Mayor Farr and T. B. H. Stenhouse.

At the celebration held in Salt Lake the same day James Taylor, the speaker, gave out the following statement of the material used in the construction of the line:

Length of line constructed, 1900 miles; Number of ties 4,500,000 making about 176,000 cords of wood; Number of rails used in the construction, 741,000, which, if laid in a straight line, would reach almost half way around the globe. Weight of iron used in the construction of the line, exclusive of nails, spikes, nuts, etc. 272,857 tons; Probable cost, upward of $100,000,000; expended for powder and glycerine alone, about $500,000. The completion of this road unites the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and gives the country a line of railroad 3420 miles in length.

No adequate preparations had been made to furnish the money with which to pay off the men who had been working on the road, and they soon became clamorous for their pay. They were a dangerous lot of men as a whole, many of them were hardened, irresponsible, lawless fellows. Many threats were made and for a while and the head men of the road, Dillon, Duff, Durant and the Ameses were in some personal danger. They remained at Echo several weeks devising means for getting the money there to pay off the men, and they were assisted by many of the contractors, some of whom raised money on their own personal security. This and other matters being attended to, Mr. Reed went on to Boston, Mass. about the first of August to meet with the Board of Directors for the purpose of settling with the contractors, and winding up the affairs of the road so far as the construction department was concerned.

They had a stormy time of it in Boston, caused principally by the enormous sum of money to be paid out as the price of Doctor Durant's foolish, almost criminal interference during the last year, as will be shown by the following letters.

About this Document

  • Source: Account of the "Golden Spike" Ceremony
  • Source: Account of the "Golden Spike" Ceremony
  • Citation: Nebraska State Historical Society, Samuel Reed Papers (Union Pacific Railroad Collection), MS 3761, Unit 1, Subgroup 14, Series 1, Box 2, MS 3761, Unit 1, Subgroup 14, Series 1, Box 2, Letters to Wife and Family, Letters to Wife and Family
  • Date: May 11, 1869