Union Pacific Rail Road, 1864-1880

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This page was last updated on June 23, 2018.

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Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR) connected with Central Pacific in May 1869 at Promontory, Utah. UP lines in Kansas and Colorado were purchased from predecessor companies.

Union Pacific Railway (UPRy) had been incorporated in January 1880 as a consolidation of the original Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR) (chartered in 1862), the Kansas Pacific Railway, and the Denver Pacific Railway & Telegraph Co.

Union Pacific Railroad (UP) operated all UP lines in Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming, and into Ogden in northern Utah. UP was incorporated in July 1897 as a reorganization of Union Pacific Railway, which was in receivership since 1893.


July 1, 1862 -- Union Pacific Rail Road was incorporated by an act of the U. S. Congress.

September 2, 1862 -- The "Board of Commissioners of the Union Pacific Rail Road and Telegraph Company" met in Chicago to organize the company and choose its officers.

October 30, 1863 -- The company was formally organized in New York City at the first meeting of its Board of Directors and officers.

December 12, 1863 -- Ground was broken at Omaha, Nebraska Territory.

March 1864 -- Grading started at Omaha.

July 2, 1864 -- Limits of the company were changed by an amendment to the original act of Congress.

July 2, 1864
President Lincoln approved the changes to the Pacific Railway Act of 1862. (Building The Pacific Railway, by Edwin L. Sabin, 1919, page 89)

August 1864 -- Herbert M. Hoxie was awarded the first construction contract; numerous delays due to incompetence, corruption and lack of funds.

September 1864 -- Without construction having begun, the first five UPRR locomotives were delivered in August and September 1864; two were sold by the end of 1864 as surplus; the remaining three were later sold to the construction contractor and re-purchased in 1867 at an inflated price as part of the Credit Mobilier scandal.

October 17, 1864
"The Union Pacific railroad is said to be rapidly progressing west from Omaha. On the 17th of Oct. twelve miles were graded, and by the introduction of machinery the road is being graded at the rate of a half mile a day. After grading some 40 miles west from Omaha, there will be some 400 or 500 miles that will need but little grading, and one part of that distance has 150 miles without a curve." (Deseret News, December 28, 1864)

December 19, 1864
Union Pacific sold three locomotives to H. M. Hoxie; all three were sold back to Union Pacific in April 1867.

(Read more about the Hoxie contract)

The following comes from Pioneering the Union Pacific, by Charles E. Ames.

On July 8 the first locomotive arrived at Omaha. It was No. 1, the "General Sherman," named after the war hero who was always a strong friend of the UP. It had been hauled on flatcars over the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to St. Joseph, whence it had been shipped 175 miles up the Missouri River, while there was still enough water, to the Omaha ferry landing.

Two days later, July 10, the first rail was laid quietly on the river bottom lands near the ferry, with only a ·small force of men, as many had been discharged because of the company's inability to pay them. The wheels of the UP began to roll at long last, even if the "General Sherman" for weeks was to have only a mile and half on which to bustle back and forth abjectly with materials. All of the original UP rails were of wrought iron, made in America as required by the charter. Steel rails did not appear until after the UP was finished. The first rails used on the main line mostly weighed only 50 pounds per yard, and were about 28 feet in length. They were shipped by river all the way from Pittsburgh.

On August 3 engine No. 2, the "General McPherson," from Paterson, New Jersey, was lowered to the tracks. Major-General James B. McPherson, a close friend of Sherman and one of General Dodge's commanders, had died for the cause at the Battle of Atlanta. Weighing only 28 tons, with four drivers of 50 inches, No. 2 was nicknamed "Grasshopper." After the eastern roads reached Council Bluffs, it did service switching cars between the terminal and the ferry boat at Omaha. (Photos show that No. 2 was a saddle tank 0-4-0.)

July 10, 1865 -- First rail was laid, at Omaha. (Klein, page 65)

Mid July 1865 -- The first locomotive was operated on Union Pacific. (Condensed History of the Construction of the Union Pacific Railway, by Joseph Nichols, 1892, pages 81-82; Google Books)

(Research in Omaha newspapers will better identify the first day of operation.)

September 1865 -- A newspaper item dated September 22, 1865 showed that there were four locomotives being used by Union Pacific, along with "30 platform cars, 4 or 5 box freight cars, several passenger cars,..." (The Illustrated History of Nebraska, 1906, page 107, Google Books)

September 22, 1865
"The first 10 miles of track west from Omaha was opened for service." (Update Line, Union Pacific Communications Department, September 25, 1997, "This Week In UP History")

October 20, 1865
"Pacific Railroad Excursion -- Pursuant to invitation extended us by Mr. Thomas Durant, we, in company with a considerable number of our prominent citizens, this morning, took a trip up the Pacific Road as far as track is laid, with a view to an observation of the progress thus far made in this great work of national importance. The occasion was doubtless suggested by the presence of General Sherman in our midst, and who accompanied the party. A platform car, gaily decorated with national emblems, was fitted up for the occasion, which, with the elegant locomotive, "General Sherman", likewise decorated with flags, made up a perfect bijou of a train. The train started at half past nine this morning, and proceeded as far as the Papillion Creek Valley, at a good rate of speed, say about fourteen miles, when the party alighted, to witness the process of laying track, and to look at the country. Before starting on the return to the city, a bountiful collation was spread for the guests of the road, and amidst the flow of champagne, General Sherman made a short and felicitous speech, in which he exemplified the great importance of the Pacific Railroad, in a national point of view, and, with the enlarged and comprehensive estimate he placed upon the work, expressed his sanguine view of its final success. Other speeches were made by Mr. George Upton, of New York; Judge William Kellogg, of our territory; his excellence, Territorial Governor Alvin Saunders, Colonel Lorin Miller, the mayor; General Heath, Colonel Gilmore; Doctor George Miller and others. The occasion was one of great interest, and, we confess to a degree of enthusiasm, as we rode, for the first time, over a railroad, in Nebraska, whose final terminus is to be the golden shores of the Pacific Ocean. The excursionists returned to the city at about two o'clock, all duly impressed with the grandeur of the great Pacific Railroad conception, and thanking Mr. Durant for a splendid opportunity afforded us in seeing with our eyes, the beginning of an end of its success." (Nebraska Republican newspaper October 20, 1865; courtesy David Seidel email dated October 19, 2015)

November 18, 1865 -- One hundred miles graded and 28 miles of rail laid. (Klein, page 70)

December 31, 1865 -- Construction was completed to Fremont, Nebraska.

January 27, 1866 -- The construction bonds for the first 40 miles were issued by the government, allowing UPRR to sell the bonds to private investors.

February 1866 -- To speed construction G. M. Dodge was named Chief Engineer and the Casement Brothers were named as tracklaying contractor.

June 2, 1866 -- Construction was completed to Columbus, Nebraska.

July 8, 1866 -- Construction was completed to Grand Island, Nebraska Territory. (Condensed History of the Construction of the Union Pacific Railway, by Joseph Nichols, 1892, page 121; Google Books)

August 6, 1866
"U.P. track construction reached the city of Grand Island, NE." (Update Line, Union Pacific Communications Department, August 7, 1997, "This Week In UP History")

September 26, 1866
"Track construction reached the town of Lexington, NE." (Update Line, Union Pacific Communications Department, September 25, 1997, "This Week In UP History")

October 5, 1866 -- Construction was completed to the 100th Meridian; a sign was erected at what was known as the symbolic beginning of the West by stating "100th MERIDIAN. 247 MILES FROM OMAHA"; the site is just west of today's Cozad, Nebraska, a town on U. S. Highway 30 and a station on the Union Pacific, as well as being a stop on the Pony Express.

(Cozad was shown as milepost 238.2 in 1948; the 1981 Union Pacific track profile shows the 100th Meridian at milepost 238.29)

December 3, 1866 -- Construction was completed 49 miles from the 100th Meridan to North Platte, Nebraska Territory (shown as milepost 284.1 in 1948); an additional 14 miles was completed to O'Fallons by year's end.

December 1866
Union Pacific sold 17 locomotives to H. M. Hoxie; all were sold back to Union Pacific in April 1867.

1866 -- A total of nine locomotives were delivered to UPRR during 1866; six as named locomotives in March through August, and three as numbered locomotives in August through October.

1867 -- A total of 37 locomotives were delivered to UPRR during 1867.

1868 -- A total of 75 locomotives were delivered to UPRR during 1868.

1869 -- A total of 22 locomotives were delivered to UPRR during 1869.

April 1867 to May 1869 -- Union Pacific construction and tracklaying crews completed 800 miles of track across Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah.

1867-1869 Construction Milestones

(Except as noted, the following construction chronology for 1867-1869 is taken from two sources: "Pioneering The Union Pacific" by Charles Edgar Ames, Meredith Corp., 1969, pages 235, 295, and 336; and Extra 2200 South, Issue 103 [pages marked as issue 101], April-May-June 1994, page 16)

April 22, 1867 -- Construction resumed west from O'Fallons, Nebraska (Nebraska Territory became the State of Nebraska on March 1, 1867).

May 24, 1867 -- Construction was completed to Ogallala, Nebraska.

June 24, 1867 -- Construction was completed to Julesburg, Colorado.

August 29, 1867 -- Construction was completed to Kimball, Nebraska.

September 23, 1867
"Track work was completed out to Kimball, NE." (Update Line, Union Pacific Communications Department, September 25, 1997, "This Week In UP History")

(Southeastern Wyoming was part of Idaho Territory from March 1863 to December 1864 when Dakota Territory was created. Dakota Territory then included almost all of Wyoming, until Wyoming Territory was created in July 1868.)

November 13, 1867 -- Rails were laid into Cheyenne. (Athearn, Union Pacific Country, page 65)

November 18, 1867 -- Construction was completed to Cheyenne, Dakota Territory (shown as milepost 509.5 in 1948)

April 5, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Sherman Summit, Dakota Territory.

May 4, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Laramie, Dakota Territory. (The Daily Evening Leader Cheyenne, Wyoming, May 5, 1868, courtesy of Kim Viner via email dated May 2, 2014)

Both the Cheyenne Leader and the Frontier Index newspapers (the latter printed in Laramie City at that time) issues of May 5, 1868, state that the first train arrived on May 4, 1868. The Cheyenne Leader put it this way, "The First Train of railway cars reached Laramie City yesterday morning and great was the rejoicing the feat..."

Additionally, both newspapers also stated that a train on May 4th had passengers aboard; the mayor of Cheyenne and five others looking for property to purchase in Laramie. It is important to note that the two papers were big boosters for their respective communities and often denigrated the other. That they agreed on the date of the arrival of the rails, therefore, is significant.

July 21, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Fort Steele, Dakota Territory.

(Wyoming Territory created on July 25, 1868.)

September 1, 1868 -- Union Pacific tracks reached Bitter Creek, Wyoming Territory, 65 miles east of Green River. (Deseret News, September 9, 1868; quoting "The Frontier Index")

September 18, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Point of Rocks, Wyoming Territory.

October 1, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Green River, Wyoming Territory.

October 20, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Granger, Wyoming Territory.

December 4, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Evanston, Wyoming Territory.

UPRR Comes To Utah

December 10, 1868 -- Construction was completed to Wahsatch, Utah Territory.

January 15, 1869 -- Construction was completed to Echo City, Utah Territory.

January 20, 1869 -- Construction completed to 1,000 mile marker; sign applied to nearby large tree labeling it as the 1,000 Mile Tree.

January 21, 1869 -- Construction was completed to Tunnels 3 and 4 in Weber Canyon; a temporary track was laid around tunnel 4 until its completion in April.

February 29, 1869 -- Construction was completed to Devil's Gate, Utah Territory.

March 8, 1869 -- Construction was completed to Ogden, Utah Territory.

March 27, 1869 -- Construction was completed to Corinne, Utah Territory.

May 9, 1869 -- Construction was completed to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

May 10, 1869 -- Last spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah Territory. (*not* at Promontory Point, which is 30 miles south of Promontory.)

After Promontory

May 11, 1869 -- Operation began between Omaha and the connection with Central Pacific Railway at Promontory, Utah Territory.

November 6, 1869 -- Construction formally completed, 1038.40 miles, Omaha to a point five miles west of Ogden, Utah.

March 22, 1872 -- Mainline extended 4.01 miles east from Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa, total of 1042.41 miles; final total mileage including side tracks and yard tracks as of March 22, 1872 was set at 1089.89 miles.

February 1874 -- Following a financial panic among investors in the East, and after fighting government regulators who wanted Union Pacific to start paying its debt, a New York financier by the name of Jay Gould took control of Union Pacific in its weakened state. Gould set about consolidating his interests to control both the transcontinental traffic as well and Utah and Colorado mining traffic.

May 31, 1875 -- News was announced that Jay Gould had signed traffic agreements to consolidate freight, passenger and express business on Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific Railway, and operate the two roads as a single route. (New York Times, May 31, 1875)

(Read more about Kansas Pacific Railway)

Disagreements and difficulties started between the controlling groups right away. Kansas Pacific connected at Denver with the Denver Pacific Railway (which KP controlled), and Denver Pacific connected with Union Pacific at Cheyenne.

(Read more about Denver Pacific Railway)

March 1, 1879 -- Colorado Central Railroad was leased to Union Pacific Railroad for 50 years. (Klein, page 397)

(Read more about Colorado Central Railroad)

March 7, 1879 -- Jay Gould and his investor associates agreed to purchase controlling interest in the Kansas Pacific Railway, which had been in receivership since November 1876. (New York Times, March 7, 1879) The KP receivership was caused by Gould when he sued for dividends due on the 35,000 shares that he owned. The control took the form of Gould making a deal with the road's bondholders to settle all their claims and guarantee payment on the bonds. (New York Times, March 9, 1879) This action came after Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific had tried several times since 1875 when Gould had controlled UP, to reach agreeable terms for rate and traffic sharing.

May 13, 1879 -- Kansas Pacific formally reorganized and removed from receivership. (New York Times, May 13, 1879; January 20, 1880)

Union Pacific Railway Consolidation

January 24, 1880 -- Union Pacific Railroad was consolidated with Kansas Pacific Railway and Denver Pacific Railway on January 24, 1880 to form the Union Pacific Railway. Jay Gould controlled all three railroads.

(Read more about Kansas Pacific Railway)

(Read more about Denver Pacific Railway)

February 1880 -- Jay Gould sold his controlling interest in Union Pacific, but retained a very large amount of stock interest in the company. (Klein, page 406)

(By 1880 Union Pacific was firmly in place in Utah; the story continues as part of Union Pacific In Utah, 1868-1899.)

After 1880

October 13, 1893 -- Union Pacific Railway declared bankruptcy and was turned over to an independent receiver. (Read the Wikipedia article about the Panic of 1893)

January 22, 1898 -- Physical property, rights and franchises of Union Pacific Railway were sold to Union Pacific Railroad.

More Information

Robert West Howard's chronology from "The Great Iron Trail." -- Includes numerous conflicts to other publshed works.