Skip Navigation Links and Jump to Page Content  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Business Reference Services (Science, Technology, and Business Division)
  Home >> Guides >> BERA >>
   Issue 19/20, Spring 2014
New map of the Union Pacific Railway, the short, quick and safe line to all points west. County map of the United States showing relief by hachures, drainage, cities and towns, and the railroad network with emphasis on the main line. Scenic illustrations border the map.

The Transcontinental Railroad

The first Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and also as the “Great Transcontinental Railroad” and the “Overland Route”) was a continuous railroad line constructed between 1863 and 1869. It connected the existing eastern U.S. rail network at Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa with the Pacific coast on San Francisco Bay.

While Asa Whitney published his ideas on the idea of a railroad to California in 1849 others also joined the chorus. Then Theodore Judah, chief engineer for the Sacramento Valley Railroad, undertook a survey to find a manageable route through the Sierra Nevada mountains and presented his plan to Congress in 1856. The next stop on the timeline is July 1, 1862 when Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 which created the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad. In total, the rail line was built by the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California (CPRR), Union Pacific, and Western Pacific Railroad Company over public lands provided by extensive US land grants.

BERA - Business & Economics Research Advisor - A Quarterly Guide to Business & Economics Topics

Issue 19/20: Spring 2014
Updated: Spring 2018

RAILROADS: Historical Research Sources at the Library of Congress

Table of Contents

General Resources
Cost of Operations
      Finance & Revenue
      Wages & Compensation
      Print Indexing
Maps and Time Tables
Accidents and Safety
The Transcontinental Railroad New Resource
Internet Resources
LC Subject Headings

Caption (image left):
New map of the Union Pacific Railway, the short, quick and safe line to all points west.
Contributors: Rand McNally and Company. Union Pacific Railway Company.
[Chicago, 1883]
Library of Congress. Geography and Map Division.
Digital ID

It opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869 when CPRR President Leland Stanford ceremonially drove the gold "Last Spike" (later dubbed the "Golden Spike") at Promontory Summit. The entire line wasn’t completed until November 1869 when the Central Pacific finally connected Sacramento to the east side of San Francisco Bay and Union Pacific connected Omaha to Council Bluffs completed the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge in 1872.

The material in this guide is just a fraction of what is written on the topic and is only intended to get researchers started. Please use the suggested Library of Congress subject headings to find additional materials on this topic.


Print Resources

Galloway, John Debo. The First Transcontinental Railroad: Central Pacific, Union Pacific. New York, Simmons-Boardman [1950]
LC Call Number: HE2791 .C456 1950
LC Catalog Record: 50005137

This title looks and presents equally the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. There are chapter for each on the company, the builders, and locating of the railroads.

Gwin, William McKendree. Speech of Mr. Gwin, of California, on the bill to establish a railway to the Pacific, delivered in the Senate of the United States, January 13, 1853. Washington, Printed by L. Towers, 1853.
LC Call Number: HE2763 1853a
LC Catalog Record: 05039779

This is the text of the speech reprinted but the Library's volume also includes a map of southern railway as of July 1, 1901 which is pretty much Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and southern Illinois eastward.

Haney, Lewis H. A Congressional History of Railways in the United States. Madison, Wis., Democrat printing company, state printer, 1908-10.
LC Call Number: HE1061 .H22
LC Catalog Record: 21002284
Available online via HathiTrust

This book looks at railroads as part of the larger discussion of transportation in the United States. It looks at canals and road and compares all three, and specifically looks at the time when railroads superseded roads as a national improvement and government's role in the building, development, encouragement of them. Book two starts by looking at aid to railways including government, mail service, imports and duties, land grants, etc. Book three looks at the subject of railways to the Pacific and devotes a chapter to the transcontinental lines. The Library has the microfilm version as well as the 1968 reprint.

Hogg, Garry. Union Pacific; the Building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. New York, Walker [1969, c1967]
LC Call Number: HE2791.U55 H6 1969
LC Catalog Record: 69014361

This book is a brief history of the building the transcontinental railroad specifically the Union Pacific part.

Leonard, Levi O. A Railroad to the Sea, by Levi O. Leonard [and] Jack T. Johnson. Iowa City, Ia., Midland House, 1939.
LC Call Number: HE2791.U55 L4
LC Catalog Record: 40005307

This title is a history of building the transcontinental railroad specifically the Union Pacific part.

Senatorial Excursion Party over the Union Pacific Railway, E. D. St. Louis, S. Levison, printer, 1867.
LC Call Number: HE2791.U55 S4
LC Catalog Record: 55054830

This title includes the speeches on the Pacific rail road question from: Senators Yates, Cattell, Chandler, Howe, and Trumbell as well as speeches of J.A.J. Creswell, John Covode and William M McPherson that were delivered at the banquet given to them by the city council and merchants exchange on June 14, 1867.

Simpson, J. H.. Report of Lieut. Col. James H. Simpson ... on the Union Pacific railroad and branches, Central Pacific railroad of California, Northern Pacific railroad, wagon roads in the territories of Idaho, Montana, Dakota, and Nebraska, and the Washington aqueduct. Washington, Govt. print. off., 1865.
LC Call Number: HE2763 1865
LC Catalog Record: 06044698

This report includes various letters related to the railroad, route changes, Atchison Branch, Siou City and Pacific railroad, Central Pacific Railroad, etc.. The title also includes maps.

Trottman, Nelson Smith. History of the Union Pacific; a Financial and Economic Survey. New York, A. M. Kelley, 1966.
LC Call Number: HE2791.U55 T7 1966
LC Catalog Record: 66022637
1923 ed. available online via Hathi Trust

This is a reprint of a book originally published in 1923. Chapters 1-3 are focused on the time period beginning with the Railroad acts and ending with construction. The chief concern of the title is the railroad after its completion with attention paid to the Credit Mobilier scandal, various disputes/litigation over the interest question, various auxiliary/branch lines, consolidation and growth at the turn of the century.

United States. Congress. House. Select Committee on Establishment of Railroad and Telegraphic Communication between the Atlantic States and the Pacific Ocean. Pacific railroad and telegraph ... [Washington, 1856]
LC Call Number: HE2705.I856 A3
LC Catalog Record: 32016378

This report (Rpt358) from the 34th Congress dated August 16, 1856 states the necessity of connecting the east and west coast with a railroad and telegraph lines as a way to maintain the US position on the Pacific coast particularly in light of the gold discovery. Related to Report 274 (July 24, 1856)

United States. Laws, statutes, etc. Acts of Congress relating to the Union Pacific railroad, Washington, Govt. print. off., 1873.
LC Call Number: HE2791 .U54 1873
LC Catalog Record: 11008777

A bound copy of the acts relating to Union Pacific that were passed between 1862 and 1873.

United States. Pacific Railway Commission. Report ... of the United States Pacific railway commission [and Testimony taken by the commission] Washington, Gov't print. off., 1887-88.
LC Call Number: HE1062 .U6
LC Catalog Record: 06045508
Available online via Hathitrust

This is the multi-volume report required by an act of Congress passed in March 1887 to investigate the railroads that built the railroad. It includes a history of the construction. Quite a bit of the set includes testimony from various individuals related to the project.

United States. War Department. Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Made under the direction of the Secretary of War, in 1853-[6] ... Washington, A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer [etc.] 1855-60.
LC Call Number: F593 .U58
LC Catalog Record: rc01001840
Available online via the following online archives:
HathiTrust (incomplete set)
Biodiversity Heritage Library
Internet Archive

  • Volume 1   various early reports, letters, and memoranda including from the Jefferson Davis (Secretary of War) and Governor Stevens (Governor of the Washington Territory) mostly about the various route options
  • Volume 2   reports from Lt. E.G. Beckwith on various route parts
  • Volume 3   extracts from the preliminary report of Lt W. Whipple and his final report
  • Volume 4   various appendixes to Whipple's report specifically botany
  • Volume 5   survey report parts- 1 (report), 2 (geological), 3 (botanical), 4 (zoological), and appendixes (distance/altitudes, latitudes/longitudes, data for profiles)
  • Volume 6   Lt. Henry Abbot's report specifically looking at California/Oregon
  • Volume 7   Lt. Joh Parke's report looking at California routes as well as conclusion of the review of the reports on exploration and survey
  • Volume 8   Zoological report
  • Volume 9   Zoological report
  • Volume 10   Zoological report and reports from Lt. Whipple, Lt Williamson, and LT Abbot
  • Volume 11   a letter from A.A. Humphrey, memoir of G.K. Warren, also maps, profiles, and sketches.
  • Volume 12   parts 2 and 3 of the narrative and final report of Isaac Stevenson Governor of the Washington Territory

Whitney, Asa. A Project for a Railroad to the Pacific. New York, Printed by G. W. Wood, 1849.
LC Call Number: HE2763 1849j
LC Catalog Record:  05038860
Available online via Internet Archive

One of the earliest and most notable examples making the case for an overland route.

Internet Resources

Abraham Lincoln Papers

This collection consists of approximately 20,000 documents dating from 1833 to 1916. Most of the approximately 20,000 items, however, are from the 1850s through Lincoln's presidential years, 1860-65.

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

A collection of digitized and transcribed material related to the building of the transcontinental railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad. Included are:
  • "Report of the Chief Engineer on the preliminary survey, cost of construction, and estimated revenue of the Central Pacific Railroad of California, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, from Sacramento to the eastern boundary of California, October 22, 1862."
  • "Transcontinental Railroads.  History of Construction." Commissioner of Railroads, 1883.
  • "Report on Transcontinental Railways." Secretary of War, 1883.
  • Legislative History of the First Transcontinental Railroad from the Congressional Globe.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

This Library of Congress brings together online the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75. Can be helpful in looking for congressional actions, thoughts, and legislation.

Online Exhibit – Transcontinental Railroad
Linda Hall Library with support from the BNSF Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation

There is a brief history of building the railroad, general information on the history and technology of nineteenth-century railroads, and full text access to the library's collection of 19th century railroad periodicals.

Records of the Commissioner of Railroads – National Archives & Records Administration
Record Group 193, 1861-1907 (bulk 1878-1904)

This is an inventory of the records created by the Commissioner of Railroads.

Records Relating to North American Railroads. comp. by David E. Pfeiffer. (2000)
Reference Information Paper 91. [PDF format: 1.04 MB/282 pp.]

Covers documentation concerning the railroads and their interaction with the U.S. Government from the beginning of railroading to 1996.

Statutes at Large

These are the early laws regarding the specific project but an additional set of laws was passed regarding the telegraph that went along with the railroad and there were additional laws passed that were related to the railroad.

Primary Documents in American History - Pacific Railway Act (Library of Congress)

This is a guide and collection of sources from the Library's collections.

Railroad Maps, 1828 to 1900 – Transcontinental Railroad

This is a collection of railroad maps from across the United States including those related to the transcontinental railroad, Union Pacific, and the Central pacific lines.

Topics in Chronicling America – Golden Spike, 1869

This guide was created by Library staff and includes selected articles from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America project as well as searching suggestions to find additional material.

Union Pacific

Historical resources and information on Union Pacific from Union Pacific. Includes the online project "The Great Race to Promontory".

LC Subject Headings

Additional works on the transcontinental railroad in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of Library of Congress subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. For assistance in locating other subject headings which relate to this subject, please consult a reference librarian.

Last updated: 06/21/2018

Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Guides >> BERA >>
   Issue 19/20, Spring 2014
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  June 21, 2018
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian