Rails Across America
Index For This Page
This page was last updated on June 15, 2018.
(Return to Union Pacific index page)
(The following is taken from a pamphlet published by Union Pacific in March 1988.)
The History Of The Union Pacific Railroad
A 22,000-Mile Rail System Serving 21 States
During the mid nineteenth century, the United States was swept by a wave of "railroad fever" as Americans looked westward. The people of that era knew that the West was a land of vast promise — promise which could only be realized if railroads conquered the wilderness. Railroads brought settlers and the growth of towns and industry.
No railroads contributed more to the development of the West than those which today form Union Pacific System. This is the story of how they were built and how they in turn helped build America.
The History Of The Union Pacific
Union Pacific began building at a time when some pioneers still had to walk from the Missouri River to California's shore — a task that took six months.
On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act. Ground was broken on December 2, 1863, at Omaha, Nebraska, but because of difficulties in financing, it was not until July 10, 1865, that the first rail was laid.
While Union Pacific was building westward under the leadership of Gen. Grenville Dodge, chief engineer, Central Pacific Railway was building a line eastward from California; and on May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah, the golden spike was driven that linked the two railroads and completed the first transcontinental rail line.
Even before the golden spike was driven, Union Pacific's managers realized they had a problem. The land their infant railroad crossed was almost unpopulated.
In September of 1868, the Union Pacific created its land department and began a mammoth campaign to encourage settlement of the West.
It wasn't long before whole trainloads of immigrants arrived; sometimes alone, sometimes in colonies numbering in the hundreds.
Union Pacific began to grow from that single line west from Omaha into additional territory.
In 1880 the Kansas Pacific and Denver Pacific railroads were brought into the system, adding Kansas City and Denver. Branch lines were built.
At the western end the railroad lines were extended into Idaho and across Oregon to link Portland and later Seattle to the Union Pacific. Gold and other minerals in Montana inspired construction of a northern line to Butte.
But that great effort wasn't enough. Severe financial problems throughout the nation and Union Pacific's hard-pressed assets forced the line into bankruptcy. It was auctioned in Omaha on November 1, 1897 to a group of new investors, including financier Edward H. Harriman.
Harriman recognized the need to provide the line with the best physical plant possible and immediately began a massive rebuilding of Union Pacific.
The railroad reached southwesterly from Utah to Southern California as existing lines were rebuilt.
By the beginning of World War I, Union Pacific Railroad had been virtually transformed into one of the nation's finest railroads.
World War I found many railroads unable to meet the challenge as freight movements skyrocketed. Antiquated yards and tracks became clogged. Though Union Pacific's recently modernized system was equal tc the challenge, other railroads bogged down. In crisis, President Woodrow Wilson took control of all railroads for the duration of the war. Throughout, Union Pacific provided one dependable route for fast rail movement.
The crisis threatened to recur in 1941 when the nation was plunged into World War II. Freight tonnage increases were staggering. Troop trains by the thousands would be handled.
Union Pacific and other railroads proved private ownershir was equal to the task and set records for moving traffic undreamed of in previous months.
In the years immediately following the war, Union Pacific followed up its pioneer streamliners with modern, luxury passenger trains. But the easy affordability of the private automobile and the widespread growth of air travel eventually doomed a fine tradition.
Union Pacific looked forward, recognizing the future was in the freight it carried.
Although Union Pacific is far from the railroad the early pioneers built and used, the railroad's pioneering spirit remains — now at use in researching new technology, developing original marketing plans and bringing better service to shippers.
Today, Union Pacific has microwave radio communicaions, data processing and :omputerized operations, one of he world's most modern automatic freight switching and sorting facilities in North Platte, Vebraska, and a transportation 3hilosophy that places it ahead )f its competitors in providing he services needed for OmOrTow.
The pioneering spirit of yesterday's first transcontinental railroad today appears in a modern transportation-based growth company.
The History Of The Missouri Pacific
Like our nation, Missouri Pacific Railroad celebrates July 4 as its symbolic birthday.
On that day in 1851, ground was broken in St. Louis for the Pacific Railroad.
The Pacific Railroad's first locomotive was unloaded at the river wharf on August 20, 1852, and on December 9 of that year it became the first locomotive to pull a train west of the Mississippi.
As the Pacific Railroad was beginning its operations, the first track was laid for another Missouri Pacific predecessor the Iron Mountain — on November 16, 1853.
In addition, other railroad projects which were eventually to be part of Missouri Pacific were burgeoning in Missouri and Texas.
During the Civil War, raids were made against all Missouri railroads, leading to great damage.
As the war ended, the Pacific Railroad completed its line from St. Louis to Kansas City, and daily service between the two cities began on October 2, 1865. Other railroad construction also now resumed at full speed.
In 1879, New York financier Jay Gould purchased controlling interest of the Missouri Pacific and became president of the company. With Missouri Pacific as the foundation, Gould welded together a network of rail lines. In 1880, five other smaller western railroads joined the Missouri Pacific.
Gould did not for long, however, retain control. In 1885 the management of the Texas & Pacific was separated from that of the Missouri Pacific, and in 1888 the lease of the MissouriKansas-Texas railroad properties was terminated. Of all the lines he had added to the Missouri Pacific, only the Iron Mountain remained.
Between 1885 and 1892, however, there was a large increase in Missouri Pacific mileage through construction of subsidiary lines, including extensions to Colorado and Louisiana.
From 1909 through 1923 many smaller subsidiaries were formally merged with the parent Missouri Pacific Railway.
Like many other railroads, the Missouri Pacific experienced financial setbacks during the Great Depression. It went into a receivership that lasted for 23 years. After its reorganization it increased efforts to attract new industries to its territory and to regain traffic lost to truck lines. It engaged in many modernization projects, constructed new classification yards, and in 1961 acquired railroading's first solid state computer.
Expansion by acquisition continued.
Additional expansion in the late 60s included the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad (operating from Chicago to St. Louis).
Now a modern railroad with sophisticated computer and communication systems, modern classification yards, well-equipped shops and a well-maintained stock of locomotives and freight cars, the Missouri Pacific continues to grow as a railroad prepared for the future.
The Merger Of The Railroads
On September 15, 1980, Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific railroads applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to merge.
This was done against the background of a rapidly changing railroad industry where other major railroads had already merged.
Soon after the merger applications were filed, Congress passed the Staggers Act partially deregulating the railroad industry. The government gave railroads the freedom to become more responsible for their own success on the open marketplace.
The merger of Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific railroads seemed designed for the new transportation era. The ICC approved the merger on October 20, 1982. It was consummated on December 22 after a favorable ruling from the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Today, Union Pacific System is the nation's third largest railroad. It serves 4,000 communities in 21 states between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean and from Canada to Mexico.
Its 22,000 miles of track extend to 10 of the nation's 20 largest ports and all major Midwestern gateways.
On its well-maintained tracks, powerful diesel locomotives speed millions of tons of agricultural and industrial products to foreign and domestic markets.
UP System is among the national leaders in hauling chemicals, grain, coal, minerals, lumber, automobiles, fruits and vegetables.
The system also is a major force for industrial development throughout its region.
UP System has combined the strengths and traditions of Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific railroads and formed an even stronger new railroad which is prepared to meet the transportation needs of tomorrow.
The Chronology Of The Railroads
Union Pacific Chronology
July 1, 1862
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act which created Union Pacific.
December 2, 1863
Ground was broken at Omaha, Nebraska but construction did not begin due to lack of money.
July 10, 1865
The first rail was laid.
November 13, 1867
Union Pacific tracks reached Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Union Pacific established its land office in Omaha to encourage settlement of the West and sell 18 million acres of grant lands which had helped finance construction of the railroad.
May 10, 1869
The golden spike was driven at Promontory, Utah completing the nation's first transcontinental railroad.
March 22, 1872
Union Pacific opened the first bridge across the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The Kansas Pacific and Denver Pacific railroads were brought into the Union Pacific system adding Kansas City and Denver to the UP lines.
November 10, 1884
The Oregon Short Line linking Omaha and Portland, Oregon via Idaho was completed.
October 13, 1893
Union Pacific went into bankruptcy.
November 1, 1897
Edward H. Harriman and a group of investors purchased the bankrupt Union Pacific Railroad at a receivership auction at the UP Freight House in Omaha.
Harriman began the complete reconstruction of Union Pacific at a cost of more than $25 million.
Harriman's initial rebuilding of the railroad was completed.
Harriman merged Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads.
UP began transcontinental service to Los Angeles.
In an important antitrust case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Union Pacific must sell its SP stock. The two railroads were separated.
Discovery of the Lincoln railroad car silver in a UP vault in Omaha led to the founding of the Union Pacific Museum at the headquarters building.
Union Pacific introduced the world's first streamliner passenger train, the City of Salina, which toured the nation. Its top speed was 110 miles per hour.
Union Pacific engineers in Omaha designed the world's first ski chair lift for use at the newly constructed Sun Valley resort, the first western ski resort in the U.S.
Cecil B. DeMille's motion picture "Union Pacific" premiered in Omaha.
Union Pacific received the first "Big Boy" steam locomotives, the world's most powerful engine.
Union Pacific completed replacing its steam locomotive fleet with diesel engines.
Union Pacific was reorganized. UP Railroad became a subsidiary of Union Pacific Corporation headquarterd in New York.
Union Pacific transferred passenger service to Amtrak.
Union Pacific opened a fully automated, 50-track westward yard at Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska, the largest classification facility in the U.S.
September 15, 1980
Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific railroads filed merger applications with the Interstate Commerce Commission.
October 20, 1982
The ICC issued its formal written decision approving the merger.
December 22, 1982
The consolidations were consummated. The new Union Pacific System came into existence.
Missouri Pacific Chronology
July 4, 1851
Ground-breaking ceremonies for the Pacific Railroad, direct predecessor of Missouri Pacific, were held in St. Louis.
December 9, 1852
The first train to operate west of the Mississippi River made its initial run on the Pacific Railroad from St. Louis to Cheltenham, Missouri, a distance of about five miles.
November 16, 1853
The first rail was laid at St. Louis, Missouri for the Iron Mountain Railroad, another MP predecessor which was consolidated with MP in 1917.
September 19, 1865
The Pacific Railroad was completed from St. Louis to Kansas City and daily train service begun. Construction had been halted by the Civil War.
August 5, 1870
The International Railroad, which with the Houston and Great Northern Railroad Company became the International and Great Northern in 1872, was chartered by the State of Texas to build from the Red River to the Rio Grande. Houston and Great Northern also was chartered by the State of Texas to operate from Houston to the Red River and on to the Canadian border.
March 3, 1871
Texas and Pacific Railroad Company was incorporated to build a railroad from the eastern boundary of Texas, near Marshall, via El Paso, to San Diego, California.
The I&GN began operating from Houston to Palestine, Texas.
October 20, 1876
The physical assets of the Pacific Railroad were sold to a group of investors who incorporated themselves as the Missouri Pacific Railway Company.
November 17, 1879
Railroad magnate Jay Gould purchased controlling interest in Missouri Pacific and became company president. He also soon controlled the Texas and Pacific Railway.
December 31, 1881
Missouri Pacific secured stock control of the Iron Mountain Railroad.
February 1, 1887
The Iron Mountain acquired the Little Rock, Mississippi River and Texas Railway, a 219 mile line stretching southeast from Little Rock.
December 2, 1892
Jay Gould died. Control of his financial empire, including the railroads comprising the Gould Southwestern System, passed to his son, George J. Gould.
Various railroads which eventually became part of Missouri Pacific acquired further trackage in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana while Missouri Pacific itself obtained controlling interest in the Union Terminal Railway of Memphis, a belt line.
August 9, 1909
Missouri Pacific consolidated with eleven of its major subsidiaries increasing its trackage in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado to 3,263 miles.
August 19, 1915
Missouri Pacific and the Iron Mountain went into default, were declared bankrupt and placed in receivership by a federal court.
March 5, 1917
Missouri Pacific and the Iron Mountain were reorganized and merged into the present Missouri Pacific Railroad Company.
January 1, 1925
Missouri Pacific took control of the Gulf Coast Lines which increased MP mileage in Louisiana and Texas by 2,087 miles.
March 31, 1933
Missouri Pacific failed to meet its financial obligations and went into trusteeship in accordance with the Federal Bankruptcy Act. Trustees were appointed to run Mo-Pac and several subsidiaries for a federal court.
Diesel locomotives made their initial appearance on the MoPac.
April 7, 1955
The last steam locomotive was retired from service as Mo-Pac converted entirely to diesel locomotives.
The 23-year trusteeship ended. The Missouri Pacific, Gulf Coast Lines and International-Great Northern railroads and their subsidiaries were merged into the parent Missouri Pacific Railroad Company. Texas and Pacific Railway remained a separate corporation controlled by Missouri Pacific Railroad Company.
Missouri Pacific acquired railroading's first solid state computer, an IBM 7070. It had been using computers for several years.
May 12, 1967
Missouri Pacific assumed control of the Chicago-based Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad, one of several acquisitions during the 1960s.
October 15, 1976
Texas and Pacific Railway and the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad were merged into Missouri Pacific.
November 1, 1978
Missouri Pacific Railroad Company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Missouri Pacific Corporation.
April 18, 1980
Stockholders of Missouri Pacific Corporation and Union Pacific Corporation approved a merger under which Missouri Pacific would become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Union Pacific Corporation.
Western Pacific Chronology
March 3, 1903
Western Pacific Railway was organized to run from San Francisco through the canyons of the Feather River and Beckwourth Pass to Salt Lake City. It would be part of George Gould's Rio Grande-Missouri Pacific System.
January 2, 1906
The first spike of the new railroad was driven at Oakland, California.
November 1, 1909
The final spike was driven on a steel bridge across Spanish Creek near Keddie, California as track gangs from the east and west met.
Through freight service began in January while passenger service started in August.
Rio Grande defaulted on its obligations and WP went into receivership followed by the Rio Grande. A year later, WP was reorganized with Gould losing control.
Western Pacific acquired the lines making up the Sacramento Northern Railway.
WP constructed a line to Bieber, California.
Under the impact of the depression, the Western Pacific went into receivership.
After lengthy court and Interstate Commerce Commission proceedings, Western Pacific was successfully reorganized.
Southern Pacific and Santa Fe attempted to buy the Western Pacific.
The Interstate Commerce Commission rejected SP's and Santa Fe's joint bid to acquire control of WP.
Western Pacific Railroad was spun off from its holding company, Western Pacific Industries, to a group of officers who formed a new company, Newrail.
Union Pacific acquired 87-1/2 percent of the Class A common stock of Western Pacific through a cash tender offer.