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May 10, 1869: The Final 'Golden Spike' Transforms the American Economy

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The United States was growing fast and furious. California gold and the growth of western states and territories made the need for easy access to the west an urgent national issue. The idea of a connected railroad grew as the Civil War wound down and resources freed up. 

And so the First Transcontinental Railroad was conceived. The rail line was built by three private companies over public lands provided by extensive U.S. land grants. Many of the civil engineers and surveyors had been employed during the American Civil War for the U.S. Military Railroad. Most workers were paid $30 per month and given food and lodging. 

The First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and later as the "Overland Route") was a 1,912-mile continuous railroad line constructed between 1863 and 1869 that connected the existing eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa with the Pacific coast at the Oakland Long Wharf on San Francisco Bay.

On May 10, 1869, Central Pacific Railroad President Leland Stanford ceremonially tapped the gold "Last Spike" (often referred to as the "Golden Spike") with a silver hammer at Promontory Summit in Omaha.

Travel from coast to coast was reduced from months to just one week, revolutionizing the American West. The first transcontinental rail passengers arrived at the Pacific Railroad's original western terminus at the Alameda Terminal on September 6, 1869.

Three years after the Last Spike, the Union Pacific faced bankruptcy as details surfaced about overcharges that Crédit Mobilier had billed Union Pacific for the formal building of the railroad. The Crédit Mobilier scandal hit epic proportions in the 1872 presidential election and became the biggest scandal of the Gilded Age.

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